Facebook selectively bans ‘dangerous’ users

Social media giant Facebook has significantly stepped-up its censorship efforts by banning seven accounts, six of which are often described as ‘far-right’.

Alex Jones, his publication Infowars, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson, Laura Loomer, Paul Nehlen and Louis Farrakhan. Jones and Infowars, of which Watson is an editor, are known more for general conspiracy theories than any specific political stance, while Yiannopoulos is a notorious provocateur, Loomer a political activist, Nehlen a fringe US politician and Farrakhan the leader of The Nation of Islam.

“We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology,” said a Facebook spokesperson in response to our query. The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts.” The ban also applies to Facebook-owned social networking service Instagram.

Further enquiries revealed that all were banned for violating Facebook’s policies against dangerous individuals & organizations. Among the things Facebook considers to be violations include:

  • Calling for violence against people based on factors like race, ethnicity or national origin
  • Following a ‘hateful’ ideology
  • Use of ‘hate speech’ or ‘slurs’, even on other social media sites
  • Whether they’ve had stuff removed from Facebook or Instagram before

There are also two tiers of ban. Facebook told us it usually censors all other users from even praising these banned people and organisations, regardless of context, which implies it does allow criticism of them or indeed neutral commentary. But there’s another tier that covers people who haven’t transgressed according to the criteria above but are still considered ‘dangerous’ by Facebook according to unspecified criteria. They get banned but everyone else is still allowed to say nice things about them if they want and it’s unclear which category each of the banned people fall into, hence whether or not users should avoid saying nice things about them.

Facebook did indicate to us some of the signals that prompted it to take action in these cases. It looks like many of them are being punished for associating with Gavin McInnes, founder of Vice magazine and a provocateur in the Yiannopoulos mould. Jones recently interviewed him, Loomer ‘appeared with’ him and also praised another banned person, Faith Goldy, while Yiannopoulos himself also praised McInnes as well as banned activist Tommy Robinson. Farrakhan has been banned for multiple public statements disparaging Jews.

While all of the people banned have doubtless broken the state rules at some time or other, questions remain about the specificity of those rules and how indiscriminately they’re enforced. According to Wikipedia (not necessarily the most authoritative source but we have to start somewhere) hate speech is defined as ‘a statement intended to demean and brutalize another’.

On the surface this would seem to apply to the majority of discourse over social media, but the definition is typically narrowed to such statements that are deemed to be influenced by race, religion, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. As the Wikipedia page illustrates, every country has its own hate speech legislation, but Facebook has decided to draft its own.

‘A hate organization is defined as: Any association of three or more people that is organized under a name, sign, or symbol and that has an ideology, statements, or physical actions that attack individuals based on characteristics, including race, religious affiliation, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexual orientation, serious disease or disability,’ explains the Facebook community standards page.

If we take these guidelines literally, therefore, you can be abusive on Facebook, as people frequently are, so long as you don’t call for violence or make any reference to the person’s identity. This is obviously a very difficult thing to enforce, leading to concerns that there may be a degree of political or other bias in doing so.

A common example of this cited by those who perceive political bias is the case of Antifa. The name is an abbreviation of ‘anti-fascist’ and it’s a group set up to counter perceived far-right activity. There are, however, numerous reports of this activity involving violence, especially against a group founded by McInnes called the Proud Boys. Antifa has even been labelled a domestic terrorist group in the US and yet many of  its Facebook pages remain unbanned.

The matter of actively campaigning politicians is another hot-button issue. Nehlen seems to be the only member of this newly-banned group to describe themselves as a politician, but in the UK at least two candidates standing in the imminent European elections have had their campaign accounts banned from Twitter due to the individuals in question having already been banned from that platform.

A common response to concerns about selective banning by social media platforms is that they’re private (although publicly-listed) companies and are thus free to ban whoever they please. The biggest problem with this argument is that they have also become the new public square, and the platform from which political campaigns are now largely based.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal hinged on concerns that Facebook had been used to manipulate elections and US President Donald Trump famously uses Twitter as his primary means of public communication. By selectively banning certain accounts social media companies not only open themselves up to accusations of political bias, they also run the risk of directly undermining the entire political process.

Instagram’s garden is starting to blossom

Just as Facebook’s core platform is beginning to wilt, Instagram is launching an assault on the shopping market built on the walled garden business model which bloomed in by-gone years.

A few people might have scoffed at Facebook handing over $1 billion for Instagram in 2012, but this acquisition is looking to be a clever bit of business. Facebook’s core social media platform, and the business model which underpins it, might be looking a bit jaded after recent attacks, but Instagram is maturing into a very attractive proposition.

Launched today (March 19), users can now purchase products from certain brands in the Instagram app. The team has been working hard to create a marketplace in Instagram over the last 12-18 months, and while the digital advertising model has been paying off, you get the impression the narcissistic tendencies of the app lend itself well to the online shopping arena, especially when it comes to fashion.

“When you tap to view a product from a brand’s shopping post, you’ll see a ‘Checkout on Instagram’ button on the product page,” the team said in a blog post. “Tap it to select from various options such as size or color, then you’ll proceed to payment without leaving Instagram. You’ll only need to enter your name, email, billing information and shipping address the first time you check out.”

For retailers, this could be a very interesting route to potential customers, both old and new. Instagram has proven to be a very effective tool for brands to engage consumers from a brand marketing perspective, but in terms of direct sales, the risk of navigating to another website comes with shopping carts being abandoned. Through in-app purchases, one purchasing hurdle is removed, simplifying the buying process.

Customer information will be stored with Instagram, and while it has been reported the details will not be pre-populated in other Facebook platforms, it would not surprise us if this is in the pipeline. Instagram will receive payments as a percentage of the total spent in-app, though in Facebook’s typically transparent fashion, the waters have been muddied with the team not revealing how much this percentage is.

This is perhaps another perfect example of Facebook’s ability to create a walled garden and charge third-parties to access the cultivated digital customers.

For years, Instagram has been creating an incredibly user-orientated platform, which is simple but very usable and addictive. The only way for users to access these users, to try and pry open wallets, is to strike a deal with Facebook. Facebook is not monetizing its users directly but charging third-parties entry at the gate. This model worked incredibly well for years, putting Facebook is the dominant and influential position it is in today.

The beauty of this plan is that Facebook/Instagram seems to have struck at the right time. Users are becoming increasingly used to using the app as an online catalogue, geared around window shopping not purchases. Another update launched last year, allows users to click on products which might features in posts or stories to see more information. Taking it one step further is a logical step, as long as its not done too aggressively.

While the raw materials are certainly there, the challenge which Instagram will face is not to over commercialise the platform. This is what happened with Facebook’s core social media platform, the focus was less on engagement and more on advertising revenues, resulting in the new generation ignoring and traditional users spending less time on it. If Instagram has learned from prior mistakes, this could be a very interesting proposition, with plenty of room for growth.

That said, learning from mistakes is one thing but keeping under-pressure executives in-line is another. Slowing growth figures have put the Facebook management team under pressure from investors, while scrutiny placed on the traditional business model in ever-increasing. New regulations to remove some of the freedoms granted in the data-sharing economy put profits under threat, and as with any other publicly traded company, they will have to be replenished somehow.

Recent attempts to carve out new revenue streams, such as Watch or Today In, have seemingly not produced the hoped-for bonanzas. In the case of news app Today In, the team is ironically struggling because Facebook and Google effectively destroyed the commercial viability of so many regional news sources. The ‘locusts are complaining there is no more corn’ one Twitter user commented.

Another development which is worth keeping an eye on is the change in management. After 14 years working for Facebook and Instagram, Chief Product Officer Chris Cox announced he was leaving last week. A replacement has not been announced, but the experience of this individual might give some insight as to how aggressively commercial elements of Instagram will appear.

Despite criticisms which might be directed towards Facebook and Instagram, this looks to be an excellent strategy. The team have been cultivating this audience for some time and seem to have created the perfect conditions for growth… just as long as the team learn from previous mistakes.

British parents are increasingly worried about the Internet – Ofcom

Research into children’s media consumption published by UK telecoms regulator Ofcom revealed that only 54% of parents agreed the benefits of the internet outweighed its risks, the lowest level since 2011.

The report, “Children and parents: Media use and attitudes report 2018” (and its Annex) and “Life on the small screen: What children are watching and why” were made by Ofcom with analysis of 2,000 British children aged 3-15 years and their parents. Less than half of the parents of 3-4-years agreed that the internet is doing more good than bad.

When prompted with the major concerns parents have about their children’s online life, “companies collecting information about what their child is doing online” came the top with 50% of parents expressing concern. Three other issues have increased in their level of concern from the similar research a year ago: the child damaging their reputation (42% vs. 37%), the pressure on the child to spend money online (41% vs. 35%), and the possibility of the child being radicalised online (29% vs. 25%).

Ofcom 2019 1 parent concerns

Published by Ofcom today, the reports showed that on average, a 5-15-year old child would spend more than four hours a day in front screens, including 2 hours 11 minutes online (same as a year ago) and 1 hour 52 minutes watching TV on the TV sets (8 minutes shorter than 2017).

“Children have told us in their own words why online content captures most of their attention. These insights can help inform parents and policymakers as they consider the role of the internet in children’s lives,” said Yih-Choung Teh, Strategy and Research Group Director at Ofcom. “This research also sheds light on the challenge for UK broadcasters in competing for kids’ attention. But it’s clear that children today still value original TV programmes that reflect their lives, and those primetime TV moments which remain integral to family life.”

There are differences in media consumption patterns between age-groups and between social groups. For example, the older the age group, the more time the children would spend online, from less than nine hours per week for the 3-4-year olds to 20.5 hours for the 12-15-year olds. Or, children of the 3-4-year old group in C2DE households spend more time going online, playing games and watching TV on a TV set, compared to those in ABC1 households.

Ofcom 2019 2 weekly hours

When it comes to device ownership and the devices used for media consumption, the research found that 1% of 3-4-year olds already have their own smartphones, and 19% have their own tablets. The penetration rates go up to 83% and 50% respectively in the 12-15-year old group. Again, there are differences between sub-groups on the devices used to consume media on their devices. While TV sets are still being used by more than 90% of children across all the sub-groups, the percentage of them also watching TV on other devices increased from 30% in the 3-4-year olds to 62% in the 12-15-year group.

The penetration of streaming services including Netflix, Now TV, and Amazon Video is already fairly high among all the sub-groups, with 32% of 3-4-year olds using at least one of them, going up to 58% in the 12-15-year olds. But YouTube is still leading in popularity. 45% of 3-4-year olds have watched YouTube, the penetration would go up to 89% in the 12-15-year olds.

As well as content consumption, content creation is also on the rise among children, with “making a video” one of the most popular online activities. While on average 40% of 5-15-years have made an online video, nearly half of all 12-15-year olds have done so.

Ofcom 2019 3 making video

Time spent on online gaming has remained largely unchanged from a year ago, ranging from a little over 6 hours per week in the 3-4-year group to nearly 14 hours in the 12-15-year group. But gaming is the online activity that demonstrates the biggest gender disparity. While boys in all age groups spent more time on gaming than girls, the difference went up to over 7 hours in the 12-15-year olds. On average girls in this group spent 9 hours 18 minutes playing online games while boys of this age spent 16 hours 42 minutes.

Social networks are another important type of media consumption by children. Facebook remained to be the most popular social media among the 12-15 years group, but its downward trend has continued to the lowest level of 72% penetration since the high of 97% in 2011. Gaining popularity are Instagram (65%, up from 57% in 2017), Snapchat (62%, up from 58%), and WhatsApp (43%, up from 32%). More significantly, when asked to name their “main site or app”, equal number of 12-15-year olds (31%) named Facebook and Snapchat.

Ofcom 2019 4 social networks

Astoundingly, 1% of 3-4-year olds, 4% of 5-7-year olds, and 18% of 8-11-year olds already have social network accounts, despite that most social networks set their minimum age at 13. WhatsApp raised its minimum age for EU users to 16 prior to GDPR came into effect. At the same time, less than a third of parents were aware of Facebook’s age limit, with even less awareness for the age restrictions of Instagram and Snapchat.

Ofcom 2019 5 parent awareness

Facebook creative culture questioned as Instagram founders exit

In a move which should have Instagrammers all around the world worried, co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger have decided to take their leave from the popular social media platform.

With a short and sweet statement, Systrom has announced he and Krieger would be leaving the company they founded in 2010 to take a break and find themselves. While it might sound like the pair are readying their backpacks for a couple of months sipping beers and relaxing in hammocks, the wording does not suggest the Facebook business is in a particularly healthy state.

“We’re now ready for our next chapter,” wrote Systrom. “We’re planning on taking some time off to explore our curiosity and creativity again. Building new things requires that we step back, understand what inspires us and match that with what the world needs; that’s what we plan to do.”

This of course might mean nothing in particular, though it does seem to suggest the pair need to move elsewhere to flex their creative muscles. Is Systrom indirectly accusing Facebook and its legions of employees of lacking creativity and the absence of an environment to experiment with new ideas?

Having launched in 2010, the app proved to be an instant hit collecting one million users within the first two months. By the end of the first year, 10 million accounts had been created, a number which increased to over 800 million by the end of 2017. The platform was acquired in by Facebook in April 2012 for $31 billion in cash and stock, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg announcing in the most recent earnings call the one billion user mark had been passed. The last couple of quarters have seen commercial activity on the platform increase notably.

While those who own such platforms are perfectly entitled to monetize their ideas, Instagram has been protected from the over-commercialised approach which has plagued the Facebook platform and destroyed the user experience. A balance has to be struck between advertising and maintaining a platform which entertains and engages users. The Facebook platform risks running the wrong direction.

In retaining the services of the two co-founders, perhaps this was the protection the platform needed from money-hungry Zuckerberg. With these two exiting the business what will become of the Instagram platform?

The Facebook platform has been suffering recently. While it is certainly a money making machine, this drive towards profitability has seemingly impacted user experience and the appeal of the platform. User growth has been slowing, with some questioning whether the glass ceiling is fast approaching, though there does seem to be a lack of creative spark in the platform. New features have been remarkably similar (some might suggest identical) to that of competitors, suggesting there is more of a focus on sweating assets for profitability as opposed to creating a platform which is attractive and engaging for users.

Research also supports the premise competitors are doing better at engaging younger audiences than Facebook. The Pew Research Centre has suggested only 51% of US teens aged 13-17 use Facebook today, with only 10% listing it as their preferred social media platform, compared to Instagram (72% use), Snapchat (69%) and YouTube (85%). In the Center’s 2014-2015 survey of teen social media use, 71% of teens reported being Facebook users, while 52% said they had an Instagram account and 41% for Snapchat.

With Systrom and Krieger leaving the business, citing a search for creativity as the reason, the assumption of a lack of creativity is being reinforced. The big question which remains is what is in store for Instagram?

With one billion accounts, low-advertising penetration in comparison to other platforms and a focus on younger demographics, this would certainly be an attractive proposition for any advertisers. The team has also done a much better job of capitalising on the video trend than parent-company Facebook, offering more opportunity to engage the motion-hungry users.

As co-founders, Systrom and Krieger would have certainly been influential on the development of the platform, though how much of the commercial tides were the pair holding back? Once replacements have been lined-up we’ll have a better idea as to whether this is a transition from Instagram 1.0 to Instagrabcash 2.0. We suspect Zuckerberg and the rest of the Facebook executives will be eyeing up Instagram to bolster year-on-year advertising numbers.

Only time will tell whether Zuckerberg will be able to over-commercialise this platform and destroy customer experience once again, but Systrom’s indirect critique of the environment does not suggest the best of scenarios.

YouTube strikes back in increasingly important mobile video battle

No sooner does Instagram make its mobile video move than YouTube and Snapchat counter-attack in an area of growing commercial significance to telcos too.

Facebook subsidiary Instagram launched IGTV yesterday in a bid to wrest back some of the initiative in a mobile video space largely dominated by YouTube. In hindsight the announcement may have been timed to steal some of YouTube’s thunder, because just a few hours later the Google-owned giant announced a bunch of initiatives designed to keep its ‘creators’ loyal.

It’s no coincidence that we’re getting so many online video-related announcements right now because we’re in the middle of VidCon – a big event devoted entirely to just that. Traditionally it has been a convention of YouTubers, i.e. people who devote much of their time to creating video content and sticking it up on YouTube. Since its acquisition by Viacom earlier this year it seems to have embraced the corporate world more closely and this is reflected in all these announcements.

Monetization is a critical issue when it comes to user-generated video as kids increasingly aspire to make a living that way. The most successful YouTubers make millions, but traffic doesn’t always map directly onto revenue, with YouTube reserving the right not to serve ads on content it thinks advertisers might not want to be associated with.

The result of this approach is that creators are increasingly finding their videos ‘demonetized’, with no prospect of traffic being converted into money. YouTube seems to be aware how alienating this process is to its creators and has belatedly moved to appease them with some new tools to help them pay the bills beyond taking a cut of ad revenue.

In a blog Neal Mohan, Chief Product Officer at YouTube, announced its creators are earning more money than ever from advertising, but conceded the need to create other revenue channels, building on the Super Chat service it introduced last year that enabled viewers of a live stream to pay money in order to make their comments more prominent.

So now we have Channel Memberships, a premium subscription service that offers special access to the creator for five dollars per month. YouTube has also partnered with a merchandise specialist to assist creators with flogging branded tat to their viewers. Lastly there is Premiers, which aims to turn a pre-recorded video into a live event, thus unlocking the potential of things like Super Chat.

 

All this stuff is as much a response to alternative revenue-generation mechanisms such as Patreon, which is an easy way for anyone to pledge small regular donations to someone they want to support, thus bypassing the advertising channel, as to Facebook. There’s also Amazon-owned Twitch, which live-streams games and allows viewers to pay for premium virtual tat such as emojis if that’s what floats their boat.

The other big player in mobile video is Snapchat, which has been offering portrait-aligned video suspiciously similar to the IGTV announcement for some time. With much less fanfare it has just announced its Shows video format, which was previously only available to corporate producers, has now been extended to regular creators.

The only other major social media platform we haven’t mentioned yet is Twitter, but BuzzFeed reckons mobile video has been a key reason for the recent turnaround in its fortunes. If you had bought Twitter stock in August of last year you would have tripled your money by now and, alongside a focus on news, a general rethink and a healthy dollop of luck, BuzzFeed puts that down to an aggressive push into premium live video.

A visit to your Twitter stream typically finds sponsored video clips interspersed within the usual bile, virtue-signalling and twitch hunts. These could be ads, news clips, sports coverage. “Video is really really important to us,” Matt Derella, Twitter’s head of revenue and content partnerships, told BuzzFeed. “It’s our largest format in terms of revenue.”

All this is directly relevant to the telecoms industry as video continues to put enormous strain on networks and operators increasingly look to content to boost their ARPUs and become less dependent on traditional contracts for their revenues. Internet companies are becoming increasingly reliant on mobile video for their business models, which could create a host of new opportunities for telcos able to move quickly enough to exploit them.

Facebook takes fight to YouTube on mobile with IGTV

Facebook subsidiary Instagram has launched a new app dedicated to long-form video on mobile devices that seems designed to compete with dominant incumbent YouTube.

If you want to publish video longer than a few minutes on the internet right now (outside of China) YouTube is by far the best place to get traffic and maybe even monetise your efforts. There are alternative specialist services, such as Vimeo, but they’re much smaller, and other social media platforms tend to be used for mini clips.

Instagram has traditionally been all about photos and while some producers, such as comedian Kyle Dunnigan, have adapted their video content to it, to date Instagram and Facebook have left the longer video market to their great competitor Google.

Not any more it seems. IGTV is a dedicated service within Instagram as well as a standalone app that increases the maximum length of uploaded videos from one minute to one hour. Additionally it displays the video in portrait (or vertical, as Instagram puts it), full-screen, while YouTube requires you to view full-screen video in landscape, thus needing to rotate your phone by 90 degrees. Oh, the first-world problems we have to endure.

“IGTV is different in a few ways,” said Kevin Systrom, Co-Founder & CEO of Instagram, in a blog that rather embarrassingly seems to feature a broken link to a video. “First, it’s built for how you actually use your phone, so videos are full screen and vertical. Also, unlike on Instagram, videos aren’t limited to one minute. Instead, each video can be up to an hour long.”

IGTV screens

This launch seems designed to address several important issues for Facebook. It has been agonizing over user engagement and seems to want people to use the main Facebook platform for ‘engaging with each other’ somehow, instead of just monging out at cat video compilations, so it seems to be hoping to ring-fence the video stuff on Instagram. But even this strategy seems to be confused, as we saw with the recent announcement of a tool apparently designed to limit the time spend on Instagram.

The bigger play seems to be to take on YouTube as the place for user-generated content. YouTube has been spending most of this year trying to alienate many of its producers by refusing to serve ads against their content, thus depriving them of the main means of being paid for their work. The market is desperate for a viable alternative and this could be it, so we imagine YouTube execs will be watching this situation very closely.

Having said that they don’t need to panic just yet, because right now there’s no way of directly monetising videos on IGTV. As reported by Variety, Systrom said he wants to build ‘engagement’ first but tentatively conceded that monetising is “obviously a very reasonable place to end up.”

If and when that does happen Facebook has the opportunity to steal a lot of video business from Google, but only if it does a better job of looking after its producers than YouTube has. Advertisers are very sensitive about having their brand positioned next to the ‘wrong’ kind of content, but accurately identifying that content is tricky. YouTube id currently erring on the side of caution, leading to innocuous videos being demonetised. If even Google can’t get that algorithm right, what hope does Facebook have?

Instagram unveils new feature, but is it worth your time?

This week Telecoms.com has 16 year-old Shannon O’Connor joining the team for work experience, and today is an assessment of Instagram’s new feature to moderate time spend on the app. Here are her thoughts. 

Earlier this week, Instagram’s CEO Kevin Systrom has confirmed an all-new ‘time spent’ usage insights tool in a questionable bid to improve users mental wellbeing.

Instagram is yet to comment on the ‘Usage Insights Tool’ so plans have not yet been confirmed for what the new feature will provide for its users. However, it is assumed that users will receive an outlook into the ‘daily tally’ of their minutes spent on the app whilst also receiving an alert to remind them of their daily limit.

So it seems Instagram has taken upon a whole new responsibility as a social networking app to provide services to tackle the amount of time we spend on our phones. Possibly it feels liable to take matters into its own hands when thinking about the negative impacts extended minutes online can have on teenagers and young adults like myself.

But how far will Instagram go in combatting the amount of time young adults spend on the internet?

It has been found in recent studies from the Pew Research Centre that 17% of US teens feel platforms such as Instagram harm relationships resulting in less sincere interactions. Similarly, 15% of those taking part suggested that social media distorts reality (giving many an unrealistic view of other people’s lives). A further 14% believed that teens spend too much time on social media.

This parallels with the increase in mental health problems. In the 21st century more people continue to struggle to moderate usage. In the past 25 years young people in Britain who have dealt or are dealing with anxiety/depression have risen by a climatic 70%.

The Royal Society for Public Health surveyed young people about the effects of social media through the #StautusOfMind campaign. Over 1,400 14-24 year olds were interviewed. The final results shockingly suggested that social media was ‘more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol’.

We sat down with a member of the Informa office, Tom McCormick, to hear his views on the new feature and how he thinks it may impact society among various age groups. We came to the following conclusions:

  • The content users find themselves engaging with could possibly be more damaging to mental health than the amount of time being spent on Instagram
  • If the feature was to be made into an add-on feature it would most likely become redundant as those such as himself would not invest in downloading it
  • From the perspective of a parent, those aged 20 to 40 would find no benefits in controlling the time period in which their child spent engaging on the app
  • ‘Reflective Content Moderation’ could derive better benefits for users in the long term

The alternative ‘Reflective Content Moderation’ tool was something that we believe to be more valuable. In theory, individuals who found themselves pro-actively seeking negative content may find themselves in a much more depressive state than those who found themselves viewing positive images from friends and family. If a parent had control over the content their child was seeing, the benefits that could derive from it could be far more substantial than tracking the amount of minutes spent online.

But this led to me consider if a teen would like their parent’s to accurately track their behaviour or track the amount of time that they spent on the app. Social media sites were designed to be a creative space where individuals could express themselves freely in whatever way they felt was appropriate.

Surely any implications made by the social site would purely be a window dressing; teens will always utilise their social platforms in the way they want to. For some, Instagram has failed to provide a secure and positive environment for teens to express themselves in, possibly being one origin of teen mental illness battles. It continues to give off an impression that it cares about its users; in actuality its investment in this feature is perhaps only a PR stunt to give the impression of responsibility

Furthermore, it could be said that the tool may provide a possible stop to financial development. Instagram has seen a steady increase in numbers since December 2016 when it hit 600 million. With an added 100 million users every four months, the app is now set to hit one billion this month. But now with the added burden of a potential decrease in usage minutes, advertisers could decrease investments in the app.

We will have to see whether Instagram rolls out this new feature in the next coming months or whether it makes changes; surely a track of content would be more useful than time spent on the app.

Russian censorship story highlights Facebook’s dilemma

Widespread reports that Facebook-owned Instagram has blocked posts from a political opponent of the government have brought the social media censorship issue to the fore once more.

The BBC is among the media to report on the matter, stating that Russia’s internet censor has demanded that social media companies restrict access to posts connected to corruption claims made by Alexey Navalny. Apparently YouTube received a similar request but has yet to act on it.

Navalny seems to be a fairly avid YouTuber, and the specific video flagged up in the BBC report was uploaded on 8 February and is still live, having clocked over 5 million views. Navalny took to Twitter to denounce the Instagram move and it’s generating a lot of difficult publicity for Facebook at a time when it could really do without it.

“When governments believe that something on the internet violates their laws, they may contact companies and ask us to restrict access to that content,” a Facebook spokeswoman told the Beeb. “We review such requests carefully in light of local laws and where appropriate, we make it unavailable in the relevant country or territory. We are transparent about any content restrictions we make for government requests with local law in our Transparency Report.”

Here we have the dilemma faced by all social media companies: who are they to second-guess the will of individual governments? The prevailing western narrative is to by sympathetic to Navalny and hostile to Putin – and it’s easy to believe political opposition is stifled in Russia – but we can’t possibly make an authoritative call on the veracity of Navalny’s claims, nor should we be asked to.

So while Facebook’s position on this matter appears to be kowtowing to political oppression, it’s also the will of the state apparatus in the country it’s operating. What if, on another occasion, Facebook declined such a request and it led to some unforeseen negative outcome? This is why it’s a mistake to make private companies the first point of law enforcement.