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Facebook developed two secret tools to both track its public image and to combat hoaxes and memes targeting its company, Bloomberg reports.
One of those tools, known as “Stormchaser,” was used by the social media giant to follow false information about its platform and even jokes about its founder. Since its deployment in 2016, Facebook has used the tool to track a wide array of content including posts that claim it listens to users through their phones and that company CEO Mark Zuckerberg is an alien.
In certain cases, the company took action in order to stop the spread of hoaxes. Just one month before the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Facebook alerted users who spread a false claim that people’s private data would be divulged unless they copied and pasted a special message to their profile.
That alert, placed in the News Feeds of users in the Philippines, appeared to be largely ineffective. Bloomberg reports that a Facebook staffer complained internally that the alert had only reached 20,000 of the 750,000 users it had targeted. Facebook also promoted a post debunking the hoax after it spread among U.S. users as well.
A former Facebook employee speaking anonymously with Bloomberg argued that the tool showed how the company placed a greater priority on combating hoaxes about its platform than it did on more serious cases of misinformation.
Facebook has argued, however, that comparing the two issues is unfair and that Stormchaser was not designed to take on anything other than hoaxes about Facebook.
“We didn’t use this internal tool to fight false news because that wasn’t what it was built for, and it wouldn’t have worked,” a spokeswoman told Bloomberg. “The tool was built with simple technology that helped us detect posts about Facebook based on keywords, so we could consider whether to respond to product confusion on our own platform. Comparing the two is a false equivalence.”
The spokeswoman also noted that Facebook stopped using Stormchaser to track memes in 2018, but did not explain why.
Another Facebook tool called “Night’s Watch” let the social media site monitor the public’s perception of both Facebook as well as Zuckerberg and company COO Sheryl Sandberg. After gathering data in June of 2017, the company found that users viewed Zuckerberg as “innovative” but felt that he did not share their values.
Bloomberg also reports that Zuckerberg was incredulous after the data found most people did not view Zuckerberg as a current innovator when compared to Tesla’s Elon Musk or Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Zuckerberg also scored low in terms of humbleness, trustworthiness, and charitableness in comparison to Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
While Facebook has tried to use the data to help fix Zuckerberg’s public image, it remains unclear how effective those efforts are as the company battles growing criticism for its privacy practices.
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Mikael Thalen is a tech and security reporter based in Seattle, covering social media, data breaches, hackers, and more.