Facebook Takes on Revenge Porn

Facebook announced this week that it will expand its quest to solve for “revenge porn” — the act of sharing sexually explicit images of someone online without their consent — by asking users to voluntarily submit their own racy photos.
Sounds legit, right?
It actually could work, according to tech leaders and activists who argue that in order to combat unauthorized sharing of photos, there needs to be a tech-driven solution.  
“It’s demeaning and devastating when someone’s intimate images are shared without their permission, and we want to do everything we can to help victims of this abuse,” said Antigone Davis, global head of safety for Facebook, in a post on the site.
Last year, the social media giant released a set of tools that, on the back end, uses photo-matching technology to stop an intimate image or video from being posted again once it’s already been reported and removed from Facebook-owned platforms, including Messenger and Instagram.
But that system is reactionary: an image has to already be published for all the world to see before it gets taken down.
“Even if these platforms are willing to take [the material] down, we know it can be very distressing for someone to have these images seen by their employer or their family members or peers,” says Erica Olsen, director of the Safety Net Project for the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV). “That reactive measure of taking them down after they’ve already been online — the damage is kind of done, in some way.”
In response, Facebook is taking a tip from survivors’ own proactive measures by using copyright law to block unauthorized images — in some cases, before they can even go up.
Olsen says that survivors have been known to take all the images or videos in their possession and copyright them. That way, if a photo or video is uploaded to a site that has a copyright firewall, the image is immediately flagged and removed. For sites that don’t have those protections in place, copyright law supersedes, and legally the images must be taken down.

Facebook Revenge Porn 2
Facebook’s new tool lets users upload sensitive images into a secure database to prevent them from being shared widely.

With the new protocol, people can upload intimate images of themselves, privately, to ensure that they can’t be uploaded by anyone else. Facebook has partnered with several safety organizations, including NNEDV, who will facilitate the process in which users are provided a one-time link to submit any images of themselves that they do not want shared online. The images are reviewed and given a unique hashtag that can identify attempts to upload the same material in the future without having to store the original on Facebook’s servers.
In this way, sensitive and damaging photos and videos are preemptively flagged and blocked from ever being seen by the public at large.
Revenge porn has become a widespread problem. According to a 2016 study by the Data & Society Research Institute, more than 10 million Americans have either had someone threaten to post lewd images of them, or have been the victim of such images being shared online without their consent.
Amanda Lewandowski, a clinical teaching fellow at the Technology Law and Policy Clinic at New York University, has written extensively on the topic of how copyright law can be an effective — and proactive — solution to fighting revenge porn.
“Because an estimated 80 percent of revenge porn images are selfies, meaning that the subject and the photographer are one in the same, the vast majority of victims can use copyright law to protect themselves,” she says.
Olsen has seen the tactic work. “In many cases, survivors have learned that copyright laws [make it] a little bit easier to go after sites and get images taken down,” she says.
Now, with the roll out of Facebook’s new proactive self-reporting program, victims and survivors have one more tool in their arsenal to fight back against online harassment.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Facebook provides users with a one-time link to upload photos, not partner organizations.

Meet the Privacy Expert on a Mission to Protect Your Digital Footprint

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a new breed of nationalism took root that trained its attention on the foreigners among us. In response, the federal government adopted a set of strict policies and legislation that tracked immigrants in general and Muslim communities in particular.
“I felt like the whole country was in turmoil and at risk of abandoning its values for a false sense of security,” says Tim Sparapani, an expert in digital privacy and a NationSwell Council member. “I was always taught at moments like that you don’t look away; you get involved.”
So Sparapani did, finding his passion for social impact and public service within those tumultuous days. He joined the American Civil Liberties Union as senior legislative counsel and later helped establish Facebook’s presence in Washington as its first director of public policy. These days, the D.C.-based Sparapani leads SPQR Strategies, which he founded in 2011 as a consulting firm focused on online and digital data privacy.
It was at the ACLU that Sparapani gained his reputation as a fierce advocate for individual privacy, becoming a protector against what he says was unconstitutional policies. That included the Real ID Act of 2005, a significant piece of 9/11 legislation introduced and championed by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), which required people who applied for a driver’s license or a government ID to produce five types of identification to prove their identity, such as a social security number, birth certificate, proof of citizenship and home address, and a mortgage statement or utility bill.
Democrats and the ACLU, along with moderate Republicans and a handful of libertarian organizations like the CATO Institute, thought the statute was “deeply unconstitutional,” says Sparapani. “Once you pulled back the layers, you saw it was based on nativism and ugly xenophobia.”
After the bill passed, Sparapani and his team at the ACLU spearheaded a campaign that urged states to resist the federal regulations. They made their push to the public by highlighting how the new driver’s licenses mandated under the bill — which would have electronic chips that stored a person’s name, address, birth date and social security number — were prone to identity theft, could be used to track individuals’ travel, and would cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
“We were able to get dozens of states to independently enact legislation resisting the federal statute. That hasn’t happened since the Civil War,” Sparapani says. “It was our strategy to have state-by-state resistance to something that was tremendous overreach.”
Though the Real ID Act is still enshrined in federal law and, starting next year, will bar certain state IDs from being used to fly or gain access to federal buildings, Sparapani credits the campaign as his “a-ha moment,” when he realized there was a need to protect all U.S. residents’ privacy, especially from a government that he saw as wielding too much power.
“There was this new opportunity in the computer-database era for the government to exercise control over people in all sorts of nefarious ways by using technology for ill,” Sparapani says, adding that he’d like to see more people take up the cause for privacy rights online. “It’s kind of up to all of us to decide the rules for how we use technology as a society and put limits on it that are aligned with our constitutional values.”


Tim Sparapani is a NationSwell Council member and the founder of SPQR Strategies, a consulting firm that works with startups, established companies, and consumer and privacy advocates on the policy challenges raised by emerging technologies.

The Latest Upgrade in Workplace Benefits, a Surprising Group Takes on Fake News and More

Employers Are Finally Starting to Deal With Death and Dying, Bloomberg
Now that many businesses have established (or even expanded) childcare leave policies, some are giving their employees the space to cope with life’s sorrows as well. Forward-thinking companies like Facebook now offer extended paid time off for workers caring for relatives with long-term illnesses or grieving the loss of a loved one. As one advocate said, “This expands the concept of what it is whole people need.”
Librarians Take Up Arms Against Fake News, The Seattle Times
As hyper-biased and made-up news proliferates, young people are even more vulnerable than adults to misinformation. To help students sort through the noise, librarians and other educators launched “digital life” courses that train kids to think critically and fact-check the articles they read.
Wall Street Diversifies Itself, The Atlantic
While most executive roles in the financial industry are still held by white men, there’s a subset of investment trading that attracts more diverse leaders. Without the “100-year history of what the people in charge look like,” women and people of color found success in the new frontier of exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, which emerged in the early ’90s. Insiders anticipate the rest of Wall Street will follow suit, as increased diversity has proven to improve returns.
MORE: How Digital Tools Are Helping in the Fight for Gender Equality

Why Are Tech Giants Investing in This Decades-Old Technology?

When the tech titans of Silicon Valley invest in a new venture, the markets pay close attention. But observers may have been surprised when two California-based companies made back-to-back announcements about infusing $1.1 billion into a not-so-new technology.
Last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed an $848 million deal with First Solar to build a huge solar farm in Monterey County, Calif., that will provide power to the creator of the iPhone’s new headquarters for the next 25 years, and Google fronted $300 million for homeowners to purchase their own rooftop solar panels.
Why the big bucks? For starters, they need the power. Along with Facebook, these tech companies all operate massive, electricity-guzzling data centers scattered throughout the country’s remote areas. Every time you upload a picture to iCloud or open a Google Doc, the data is housed in places like western North Carolina or central Oregon. The electricity that keeps those servers humming (plus the intricate cooling systems that monitor their temperature) consumes a whole two percent of America’s energy usage, according to a 2010 estimate. So it’s easy to see why techies would be interested in finding energy that’s both cheap and clean.
Apple and Google, who both have tens of billions in free cash, are making the smart business decision to build their own solar capacity now, rather than pay utilities over the long haul. It’s similar to the difference in cost between sitting on the lump sum and using it to rent an apartment for 30 years or spending it all now to buy a house without a mortgage.
Google’s huge push for residential solar power is particularly groundbreaking, but fits with the company’s ethos. The search engine has always promised it could make the Internet accessible for the masses, and now it’s doing the same with the democratization of energy. Partnered with SolarCity, their funding will pay for the installment of panels on nearly 25,000 roofs, giving each family true energy independence.
Just a few decades ago, these investments in solar power would have been considered wasteful. Solar and other renewable energy sources were commonly derided as “far-fetched and too expensive,” says V. John White, the executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies. “In the past 10 years, renewable sources have gone from being a slice of green on the dirty fossil-fuel grid to being cost competitive and more reliable than nuclear energy and coal, and catching up with natural gas. The cost of wind and solar power has fallen, and performance has improved.”
In California, that trend will be increasingly clear if Gov. Jerry Brown mandates that renewables account for half the Golden State’s electricity. As is typical in Silicon Valley, Apple and Google will once again be far ahead of the curve.

The Organization Making Charitable Giving Easier Than Ever

The hashtag dominates cyberspace and our lives, regardless of whether or not we understand where it comes from. (You can thank Twitter for its ubiquitousness.) And now, one group is harnessing the power of the hashtag to bring social good.
Instead of visiting a charity’s website and inputting a whole bunch of information, GoodWorld developed #donate, which allows social media users to donate directly to a charity when they use it.
It’s literally as simple as it sounds. According to the Washington Post, once a charity registers with GoodWorld, all a Facebook or Twitter user needs to do is include the hashtag in their message, along with the amount being given, and a donation is made directly to the nonprofit. (Facebook users must also post it on the charity’s page.) For a first donation, users must supply their basic information, but with all subsequent gifts, only the hashtag is required.
GoodWorld just launched on Oct. 7 and already has seven charities on board: ALS Association, Women Thrive Worldwide, Becky’s Fund, Global Kids, Alliance for Peacebuilding, Healthy Living, Inc. and Lolly’s Locks. Soon, though, GoodWorld plans to have about 30 additional participants.
Seven percent of each donation is kept by GoodWorld with the remainder going directly to the charity.
GoodWorld founder Dale Phiefer hopes that using by social media, the importance of giving will be amplified and go viral.
“What’s really important with giving is that the head, the heart and the action can happen at one time,” Pfeifer tells the Washington Post. “With online giving people were seeing things and feeling the emotion but had to take like eight steps to go and do it.”
Bill Thoet is the chairman ALS Association board and believes that GoodWorld would have definitely benefited the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
“We have pretty good donation Web sites, but you have to fill out a lot of information. You have to go through that,” Thoet says. “There were a lot more videos out there than there were donations. And I can’t think that there were a lot of procrastinators out there that meant to do it, that wanted to do it, but didn’t go through those steps.”
MORE: Two Leaders in Labor Rethink Social Safety Nets in a Freelance Economy

These Tech Companies Don’t Have a Lot of Female Employees. Now, They’re Doing Something About It

Since the 1990s, female representation in tech occupations has declined, according to the United States Census Bureau. Which is why some of the industry’s biggest names — Facebook, Pinterest and Box — have kicked off a pilot program to mentor women in tech.

WEST, or Women Entering and Staying in Tech, will tap women from the aforementioned companies to serve as one-on-one mentors for females — whether they’re currently interns starting their professional career or are in midlevel positions and are looking to grow or expand their employment opportunities, according to their website. The program will kickoff in early 2015 and is open to San Francisco Bay area women. It is not yet clear how many applicants WEST plans to accept.

“Mentorship can be incredibly influential in a woman’s career, and we’re excited to be tackling this challenge together,” Facebook says in a statement. “We believe that by working together and providing more direct support, advocacy, and space for community development, we can create an impactful, scalable, one-on-one mentorship program to help women build and grow meaningful careers in tech.”

Several companies, including Facebook and Pinterest, came under fire earlier this year after data released revealed many of the companies had very few women in the workplace. In fact, Facebook admitted that only 31 percent of its employes are female while Pinterest revealed that 40 percent of its workforce is female. Boil that statistic down to technical employees and a mere 15 percent of Facebook’s tech team are women and 21 percent of Pinterest’s tech are female.

That’s a far cry from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s message to empower women, but fortunately, her company along with a few others in the Silicon Valley are taking the first steps to correcting the problem.

MORE: Tips for Women to Succeed in Tech Careers

What You Need to Know About the 5 Most Successful Social Media Campaigns for Social Change

The videos filled your Facebook and Twitter feeds for weeks. Everyone from your great aunt to your favorite actor to politicians jumped on the bandwagon and doused themselves with ice-cold water all in the name of charity.
Whether you love it, hate it or experienced the challenge’s chill firsthand, it’s official: The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, in all its cold, wet glory, is a bona fide social media success. But it’s far from the first online marketing campaign to go viral. Here are five social media campaigns — and what you need to know about them — that have made a substantial impact on an organization’s efforts to raise awareness or funds for its cause.
Did we miss one that stood out to you? Let us know in the comments!

This Man Is on a Cross-Country Mission to Meet Every One of His Facebook Friends

While Facebook began as an exclusive site for young college kids, its reach has expanded far beyond that. With the worldwide social network now boasting more than 1.28 billion users, the concept of what it means to friend someone seems to be lost on most people.
Which is exactly why 35-year-old Army vet Mikel McLaughlin is asking: What does it mean to be Facebook friends? He’s hoping to find an answer during his cross-country quest to meet every single one of his friends on the online platform. The law school graduate set out on his journey April 2, documenting his story on his website, “We’re Friends, Right?
McLaughlin, a Minnesota native, came up with the idea after hearing about people applying some “spring cleaning” to their social network. Rather than deleting people he hadn’t spoken to in awhile, he wanted to do the opposite.
MORE: You Can Do More Than Just ‘Like’ Your Favorite Charity on Facebook
“Originally, the thought was I wanted to test the friendships I had on Facebook to see how close they were to traditional friendships,” McLaughlin told the Good News Blog. “If I could travel great distances to see these people, would they give me an hour or two of their time?”
But he’s found something more than that while traveling across the country in a rented red Volkswagen Beetle. Along the way, he’s managed to make new friends, including people he wasn’t exactly sure why they were connected on Facebook.
“I had absolutely no idea who he was or why we became Facebook friends in the first place”, he wrote on his blog. “Today, we figured it out together.”
Now on day 36, McLaughlin is about a third of the way through his network of 422 friends. While he admits he was previously friends with one out of every four Facebook friends, he’s hoping to turn some of his virtual acquaintances into real friends.
“I think if I can meet up with these people, I know spending time with them makes you more likely to be compassionate…I thought if I could be a little better perhaps everybody could be the same.”

Facebook To Ramp Up Wind Power Usage

Facebook (a small dorm-room startup you’ve probably never heard of) plans to open a new data center in Altoona, Iowa that will run completely off of wind power. Scheduled to be operational in 2015, Facebook says the ability to run on renewable energy was a major factor in their decision to choose this location for the new center. MidAmerican Energy will build, own and operate the 138 MW wind farm that will power the center, and they aim to convert 25% of their data centers worldwide to clean energy within two years.