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On Tuesday evening, Fortune’s Michal Lev-Ram reported that Facebook employees were about to be “judged on a whole new metric.” Going forward, she said, employees would be evaluated based partly on how well they helped Facebook respond to major social issues:
The change to the bonus structure was announced by Zuckerberg at an all-hands meeting at Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif. headquarters Tuesday morning, one day after the company celebrated its 15th anniversary. According to the company, none of the new, individual factors are “assigned any specific weighting or dollar amount of the target bonus,” leaving the exact formula up to its compensation and governance committee. [...]
In a call with Fortune Tuesday afternoon, Facebook’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, said there isn’t an easy formula for figuring out progress on its new goals, including improvements to safety and security, though the company is tracking and now publishing many metrics, like how many fake accounts it takes down daily. “This is going to be our first time figuring this out,” Schroepfer said about the change.
The news caught my attention in part because I had just written about the difficulty of capturing the idea of social progress in metric form. As I wrote yesterday:
One of Facebook’s key challenges is that it’s simultaneously working on hard problems across so many dimensions that it’s difficult to quantify what “progress” really looks like. Fighting information operations doesn’t resolve down neatly to a handful of metrics that you can nudge up or down over time. It’s impossible for me to identify the goal posts that, if Facebook could only kick the ball through, would lead most of its critics to agree that the platform had been “fixed.”
It now appears as it Facebook is working to identify exactly these sorts of metrics and goal posts — and holding employees accountable to meeting them. The bigger question, at least for now, is exactly how accountable employees will be. And to learn more, we will have to do some math.
We know that at Facebook the median annual compensation is $240,000, including salary, bonuses, and stock grants. So let’s say an average worker might earn a salary of around $150,000 per year.
To my surprise, Facebook actually discloses its bonus structure publicly. Our fictional worker is given an individual bonus target — say, 15 percent. Then there’s an individual performance multiple, which as you might imagine varies widely. Finally, there’s a company performance multiplier, which is typically the smallest of the three multiples. Add the percentages together, multiply them by your base salary, and that’s your quarterly bonus. In the case of a worker making $150,000, who meets expectations in a quarter where the company also meets expectations, the bonus might be $22,500.
If the worker met expectations, but the company had a good quarter, the bonus multiple might rise 25 percentage points — in which case the quarterly bonus would be $28,125.
That’s a meaningful amount of money to just about anyone. But how much of the difference will be explained by social progress? According to a Facebook spokeswoman, the company performance multiplier is based on how well Facebook achieves four distinct goals:
First, continue making progress on the major social issues facing the internet and our company.
Second, build new experiences that meaningfully improve people’s lives today and set the stage for even bigger improvements in the future.
Third, keep building our business by supporting the millions of businesses — mostly small businesses — that rely on our services to grow and create jobs.
And fourth, communicate more transparently about what we’re doing and the role our services play in the world.
It’s not clear how those will be weighted. If Facebook has a monster quarter from a revenue perspective, and democracy collapses in Germany, what score do employees get? We’ll learn in time!
I asked some former employees how significant they thought the change was for Facebook. “Seems like a big deal,” said one. “Actually meaningful,” said another. “Not that meaningful,” said a third.
Rob Price talked to some former employees as well:
”This will definitely change things. Most teams at Facebook make decisions based on running tests and measuring how it affects metrics,” one source said. “If you take that away, it changes everything.”
But, they cautioned, the difficulty in measuring impact could have negative knock-on effects on company culture. “I suspect this will be a feeding ground for politics and infighting unless it comes with some sort of additional empirical rubric. If it’s just he said vs she said that’s a very different conversation and more of a political skill.”
I believe in the power of incentives, and I also believe that incentives can have unintended consequences. (Googling around a little today, I learned that creating rewards programs for killing pests like rats and snakes leads people to breed rats and snakes. You know, to kill them. For the reward.)
A potentially good scenario that could emerge from this restructuring would be that employees spend more time devising strategies to improve social welfare that can be executed in three-month periods. A potentially bad scenario is that features built in the name of “progress” have negative externalities that turn into future column items for me here. And a not-unlikely scenario is that the new incentives don’t have much practical effect at all.
Still, it’s always good to see a company put some money where its mouth is. Talking about social progress is a good first step. Putting money behind it is a much better one.
The Interface ... Live!
Two things I’ve thought about as the newsletter has grown: (1) what would a podcast sound like? And (2) what would a live event look like? I’m pleased to say that I’ll get to try out both of these ideas simultaneously next month in Austin for South by Southwest. In separate sessions, I’ll be interviewing Alex Stamos, Facebook’s voluble former security chief, and Craig Newmark, the co-founder of Craigslist and a philanthropist who has focused his efforts on journalism. It’s part of The Deep End, a three-day event organized by The Verge’s parent company, Vox Media.
If you’re planning to be in Austin, you can register at this link to see the fun in person. I’d love to meet some readers while I’m in town.
This was a big miss from me on Monday: Democrats in the New York Senate are working to scuttle Amazon’s deal for Regional Office 1:
The ability of a local legislator to block the deal to bring a major new Amazon campus to Long Island City was exactly what Mr. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio had tried to avoid when they decided to use a state development process and to bypass more onerous city rules. Opposition, while vocal, seemed futile.
But now, with the insistence of Senate Democrats on appointing Mr. Gianaris to the little-known Public Authorities Control Board, those who want to stop Amazon from coming to Queens have gotten their most tangible boost yet. The board will have to decide on the development plan for Amazon, Mr. Cuomo has said, and could veto it.
Manish Singh sat in on a session with WhatsApp, which talked to reporters about its efforts to ban bad actors:
Overall, WhatsApp bans about 2 million accounts on its platform each month, a spokesperson said. To address this issue, a machine learning system uses learnings from the company’s past dealings with problematic accounts and from specific scenarios engineers followed when taking down accounts, said Matt Jones, a software engineer at WhatsApp. This machine learning system has reached a level of sophistication that allows it to ban 20 percent of bad accounts at the time of registration, according to the company.
In terms of overall flags, Jones said WhatsApp looks at various factors, including the user’s IP address and the country of origination for phone numbers used to sign up for the service (and whether both are pointing to the same location), how old the account is, and whether that account started sending a lot of texts as soon as it was created. Seventy-five percent of the 2 million accounts WhatsApp bans in a month are handled without human intervention or a report filed by a user, said Carl Woog, a spokesperson for WhatsApp.
More fact-checking in Arabic feels like a good thing, whatever you feel about the efficacy of fact-checking in general:
Agence France-Presse is extending its fact-checking deal with Facebook to counter fake news in Arabic, it said Wednesday.
The new contract means that AFP, one of the world’s big three news agencies, will extend its worldwide network of fact-checkers – which is already up and running across 16 countries in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
Julia Reda reports that the European Union’s effort to get the big tech platforms to install draconian upload filters to prevent the spread of any copyrighted content is closer to becoming a reality than it was a week ago, after Germany apparently came to an agreement with France:
Most likely, Germany’s and France’s compromise will be rubber-stamped by the Council on Friday, 8 February, and then a final trilogue negotiation will take place with the Parliament on Monday, 11 February.
MEPs, most of whom are fighting for reelection, will get one final say. Last September, a narrow majority for Article 13 could only be found in the Parliament after a small business exception was included that was much stronger than the foul deal France and Germany are now proposing – but there’s unfortunately no reason to believe that Parliament negotiator Axel Voss will stand his ground and insist on this point in trialogue. Instead, it will come down to the final vote in the plenary in March or April, where all MEPs have a say.
Should YouTube promote or profit from videos about conspiracy theories if the host makes a show of “just asking questions here”? Julia Alexander investigates. (To me this seems like a clear example of the often nebulous concept of “borderline content.”)
YouTube is attempting to draw a line between series like Dawson’s, which don’t explicitly present conspiracies as fact, and shows like Infowars, which promoted the PizzaGate conspiracy theory as truth. But in doing so, it allows for a broad gray area where popular videos can present conspiracy theories as possibilities without being penalized.
Dawson knew he was walking the line with both YouTube and advertisers when posting his video. He told commentator Philip DeFranco that he expected his video to be demonetized because it “wasn’t gonna be brand friendly” for advertisers. In the video, he also includes a brief disclaimer — moments after saying the iPhone spying theory is real — that “these are all just theories, none of them are facts, and they’re not meant to hurt any one or any company.”
Jane Lytvynenko reports on the spread of an image on Twitter that misrepresents women in Congress who wore white in remembrance of the suffrage movement as members of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s ugly, but it seems like a fairly clear-cut case of parody to me — although as the story notes, Twitter’s policy bans depictions of symbols associated with hate speech.
Twitter is allowing an altered photo comparing women members of Congress who wore white to the State of the Union to the KKK to continue to circulate on its platform on Wednesday despite its own policy that doesn’t allow “symbols historically associated with hate groups.”
Members of Congress — mostly Democratic women — wore white clothing on Tuesday night to honor the suffragist movement. The image, which first aired on the far-right conspiracy outlet Infowars, photoshopped white Klan-style hoods on the women. Its most popular iteration was spread on Twitter by radio host Mark Simone to his 175,000 followers. It was also shared by Katrina Pierson, a former Trump spokesperson who is a senior adviser to the president’s reelection campaign, and by Ann Coulter.
Caryn Marooney, one of Facebook’s top communications executives, is leaving the company after eight years. I’ve enjoyed working with Caryn over the years, and I suspect she’ll be in big demand when she feels ready to re-enter the fray.
Paris Martineau and Louise Matsakis list every known Facebook product and division in an effort to answer the title question. The answer is that it is a lot of different things!
Nico Grant reports on an interesting downstream effect of Cambridge Analytica: Oracle’s advertising software business is struggling because Facebook shut down partner APIs after the scandal:
Before the Cambridge story broke, it wasn’t uncommon for Oracle account managers to do 40 percent of their business on Facebook, says one of the former staffers. So while Oracle tried to get Facebook workarounds in place, account managers scrambled to push clients toward Twitter, Pinterest, and other alternatives that at least kept them spending money, that person says. At the same time, the list of companies supplying Oracle with profile data fell by as much as half, they say, because many of those companies couldn’t comply with Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation ahead of its enforcement deadline last May.
Anchor is a slick app for podcast creation that is rich with social features. Spotify scooped it up today as part of its big push into podcasting — and I’ll be curious to see how it develops from here.
Google has been reimbursing brands that pay third parties to ensure their ads won’t be shown on terrible YouTube videos. But in a sign the company believes it has mostly fixed its brand-safety issues, it has stopped the reimbursements, Lauren Johnson reports.
Ashley Carman reports that Tinder is still showing impressive growth:
Match Group, Tinder’s parent company, announced its fourth quarter earnings today, in which it disclosed that Tinder added 1.2 million subscribers last year alone. That surge led the brand to close the year out with $805 million in revenue.
That’s nearly as much as what the rest of Match’s dating brands, which include Match.com and OkCupid, pull in combined at $872 million. Match says most of Tinder’s revenue growth is thanks to Tinder Gold, which gives members certain limited features like more Super Likes per day, the ability to swipe around the world, and insight into who’s already liked them.
Betsy Morris profiles group video chat app Houseparty a couple weeks into its introduction of paid games onto the platform:
When users play “Heads Up!” through Houseparty, they get the first three games free. After that, games cost 99 cents each. In its first two weeks, the game was played nearly four million times. One user has played the game 266 times.
Houseparty now plans to add more games to the app and develop other offerings based on shared interests or experiences, like cooking, crafting, fitness, wellness and homework. The idea is to be less like ad-supported models like Facebook and Snap Inc., and more similar to the popular video game Fortnite, where users spend hours hanging out and make purchases that accentuate the experience.
I love this Olivia Carville story about a trio of apps built by and for inmates, which let them more easily receive photos and messages from loved ones on the outside and help them maintain a connection to the outside world:
Pigeonly is one of at least three apps—all launched by ex-cons—that are revolutionizing communications between prisoners and their loved ones. Even as the outside world has embraced texting, video chats and social media, U.S. prisons have largely remained technological dead zones, where inmates typically wait in line and pay to use antiquated computers running stripped-down email services. The trio of apps are slowly but surely disrupting a prison communications industry dominated by a handful of companies with little incentive to cut prices or boost services for the 2.3 million people behind bars.
I mean, they do say that porn has been at the center of every media revolution in modern history. Best of luck to, uh, BadoinkVR:
The X-rated Oculus Go headsets sell for $300, which is $100 more than what the base Oculus Go model costs at retail. For that surcharge, buyers get access to dozens of clips from the company’s BadoinkVR, BabeVR, VRCosplayX, and 18VR franchises.
Access to the videos is being offered with a pre-installed app that can be secured with a private PIN, and Badoink promises to frequently update the content made available to buyers. A spokesperson said the company is also working on a subscription option to make additional content available, but this feature won’t be included at launch.
Today in “Instagram and WhatsApp are just names now.”
Sally Hubbard says the Federal Trade Commission should intervene to stop Facebook from unifying the technical infrastructure Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger:
The integration Mr. Zuckerberg plans would immunize Facebook’s monopoly power from attack. It would make breaking Instagram and WhatsApp off as independent and viable competitors much harder, and thus demands speedy action by the government before it’s too late to take the pieces apart. Mr. Zuckerberg might be betting that he can integrate these three applications faster than any antitrust case could proceed — and he would be right, because antitrust cases take years.
Luckily, the F.T.C. has a way to act quickly. Prompted by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the agency has been investigating Facebook for violating that 2011 consent decree, which required it, among other things, to not misrepresent its handling of user information and to create a comprehensive privacy program. The F.T.C. can demand Facebook stop the integration as one of the conditions for settling any charges related to the consent decree, rather than just imposing an inconsequential fine.
Shira Ovide argues that Snap still has fundamental problems that should supercede any investor enthusiasm over its slowing losses:
Those kinds of investments seem to clash with another of Spiegel’s declared “stretch goals” — to generate profits this year. “Profits” are a relative term for Snap, which continues to bleed cash and will for as far as the eye can see. An improvement in free cash flow, for example, meant that “only” 69 cents of cash was incinerated for each dollar of sales in 2018. Progress is relative, but Snap is showing it may someday be a business that can stand on its own two feet.
And finally ...
Oh Samsung, you unfathomable factory of bizarre ideas. You had me at “Refrigerdating.”
The free app works with the Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator, a $4,000 appliance with a touchscreen on the door that you can use to view the family’s schedule, and an ingredient-tracking camera that lets you double-check whether you’re out of milk. With the app, you take a photo of the inside of your fridge to share, and you can swipe right or left based on how the contents of someone else’s speak to you. Never fear, though, you can also just take a photo with your phone if you don’t have the Family Hub.
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