Future Tense Newsletter: Facebook Cleans House

Mark Zuckerberg
Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images

Greetings, Future Tensers,

“Passover,” “Native American culture,” “Buddhism,” “Islamic culture”: These are some of the 5,000 ad-targeting options that Facebook will no longer offer to advertisers to narrow the audiences for their ads, according to an announcement by the company on Tuesday.

As Sofie Werthan reports, this scaling back of options represents an attempt to prevent advertisers from discriminating against users for attributes like faith or ethnicity. The timing is likely no accident. The policy change comes less than a week after the Department of Housing and Urban Development accused Facebook of providing advertising tools that enabled landlords and developers to filter potential renters on factors like race, gender, religion, or disability—a sort of filtering which, the government said, would violate the Fair Housing Act.

HUD isn’t the only federal agency turning up the heat on Facebook lately. The Department of Justice is reportedly trying to compel the company to break the encryption on its Messenger app as part of an investigation into a suspect related to a case involving the MS-13 gang, Aaron Mak writes. The social network’s also responding to pressure over global manipulation campaigns. Yesterday, the platform announced that it removed 652 fake pages and accounts on Facebook and Instagram linked to “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” As April Glaser explains, this latest purge notably flagged some accounts associated with Iran, which were attempting to advance narratives in support of Iranian policy interests for American audiences. Turns out the Russians aren’t the only ones orchestrating massive Facebook propaganda campaigns.

As Facebook races against “bad actors” on its platform, there’s also a very different race playing out on the internet: the bizarre digital sprint to be the first Wikipedia editor to declare a famous person dead. As Stephen Harrison writes, this form of “deaditing” can get competitive—but mostly, it seems these Wikipedians are motivated by a collective “desire to learn, share, or grieve.”

Other things we read while Facebook calculated our “reputation score”:

New targets: The Kremlin-linked group that got its hands dirty in various 2016 U.S. election meddling schemes is still reportedly at work—this time targeting conservative think tanks critical of Russia and President Trump.

Burns by Alexa: Rachel Withers considers how the “Alexa, play x” meme became the perfect online dis.

Petro coins: Amid soaring inflation rates, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced he is pegging the country’s new bolívar currency to its cryptocurrency. Aaron Mak explores what, exactly, that means.

Rewriting Braille: The development of reprogrammable Braille could make prohibitively heavy and expensive Braille books more accessible for blind readers, Sofie Werthan explains.

Dark corners of cryptocurrency: David Z. Morris explores how anti-Semitism flourishes in parts of the cryptocurrency community—and how this “festering well of hate” may pose threats to diversity in the blockchain industry.

Hurtling life updates into the void,

Mia Armstrong
For Future Tense

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.