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Facebook details AI advances in catching misinformation and hate speech

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Facebook’s battle against misinformation will never be over at this rate, but that doesn’t mean the company has given up. On the contrary it is only by dint of constant improvement to its automated systems that it is able to keep itself even remotely free of hate speech and misinformation. CTO Mike Schroepfer touted the latest of those improvements today in a series of posts.

The changes are to the AI-adjacent systems the social network uses to nip the likes of spam, misleading news items, and racial slurs in bud — that is to say before anyone, including Facebook’s own content moderators, sees those items.

One improvement is in the language analysis systems Facebook employs to detect things like hate speech. This is one area, Schroepfer explained, that the company has to be extremely careful. False positives in the ad space (like that something seems scammy) are low-risk, but false positives taking down posts because they’re mistaken for hate speech can be serious issues. So it’s important to be very confident when making that determination.

Unfortunately hate speech and adjacent content can be really subtle. Even something that seems indisputably racist can be inverted or subverted by a single word. Creating machine learning systems that reflect the complexity and variety of language(s) is a task that requires exponentially increasing amounts of computing resources.

Linformer (“linear”+”transformer”) is the new tool Facebook created to manage the ballooning resource cost of scanning billions of posts a day. It approximates the central attention mechanism of transformer-based language models rather than calculating it exactly, but with few trade-offs in performance. (If you understood all that, I congratulate you.)

That translates to better language understanding but only marginally higher computation costs, meaning they don’t have to, say, use a worse model for a first wave and then only run the expensive model on suspicious items.

The company’s researchers are also working on the slightly less well-shaped problem of understanding the interaction of text, images, and text in images. Fake screenshots of TV and websites, memes, and other things often found in posts are amazingly difficult for computers to understand, but are a huge source of information. What’s more, a single changed word can completely invert their meaning while almost all the visual details remain the same.

An example of two instances of the same misinformation with slightly different visual appearance. Aware of the left one, the system caught the right one.

Facebook is getting better at catching these in their infinite variety, Schroepfer said. It’s still very difficult, he said, but they’ve made huge strides in catching, for instance, COVID-19 misinformation images like fake news reports that masks cause cancer, even when the people posting them manipulate and change their look.

Deploying and maintaining these models is also complex, necessitating a constant dance of offline prototyping, deployment, online testing, and bringing that feedback to a new prototype. The Reinforcement Integrity Optimizer takes a new approach, monitoring the effectiveness of new models on live content, relaying that information to the training system constantly rather than in, say, weekly reports.

Determining whether or not Facebook can be said to be successful is not easy. On one hand, the statistics they publish paint a rosy picture of increasing proportions hate speech and misinformation taken down, with millions more pieces of hate speech, violent images, and child exploitation content removed versus last quarter.

I asked Schoepfer how Facebook can track or express their success or failure more accurately, since numbers increases might be due to either improved mechanisms for removal or simply larger volumes of that content being taken down at the same rate.

“The baseline changes all the time, so you have to look at all these metrics together. Our north star in the long run is prevalence,” he explained, referring to the actual frequency of users encountering a given type of content rather than whether it was preemptively removed or some such. “If I take down a thousand pieces of content that people were never going to see anyway, it doesn’t matter. If I take down the one piece of content that was about to go viral, that’s a massive success.”

Facebook now includes hate speech prevalence in its quarterly “community standards enforcement report,” and it defines it as follows:

Prevalence​ estimates the percentage of times people see violating content on our platform. We calculate hate speech prevalence by selecting a sample of content seen on Facebook and then labeling how much of it violates our hate speech policies. Because hate speech depends on language and cultural context, we send these representative samples to reviewers across different languages and regions.

And for its first measure of this new statistic:

From July 2020 to September 2020 was 0.10% to 0.11%. In other words, out of every 10,000 views of content on Facebook, 10 to 11 of them included hate speech.

If this number is not misleading, it implies that one in a thousand pieces of content online right now on Facebook qualifies as hate speech. That seems rather high. (I’ve asked Facebook for a bit more clarity on this number.)

One must question the completeness of these estimates as well — reports from war-torn areas like Ethiopia suggest that they are rife with hate speech that is inadequately detected, reported, and taken down. And of course the eruption of white supremacist and nationalist militia content and groups on Facebook has been well documented.

Schroepfer emphasized that his role is very squarely in the “implementation” side of things and that questions of policy, staffing, and other important parts of the social network’s vast operations are more or less out of his jurisdiction. Frankly that’s a bit of a disappointing punt by the CTO of one of the most powerful companies in the world, who seems to take these issues seriously. But one also wonders whether, had he and his teams not been so assiduous in pursuing technical remedies like the above, Facebook might have been completely snowed under with hate and fakery rather than being simply unavoidably shot through with it.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Primer, the fintech helping merchants consolidate the payments stack, raises £14M Series A

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Primer, the U.K. fintech that wants to help merchants consolidate their payments stack and easily support new payment methods in the future, has raised £14 million in Series A funding. The round was led by Accel, who I understand were quite proactive in persuading Primer to take the VC firm’s money.

The young company wasn’t actively fund-raising, having quietly raised £3.8 million in funding announced in May. Instead, the team was heads down building out the product and wooing potential customers by holding technical workshops and in-depth interviews over Zoom with 100 merchants — activity that didn’t go unnoticed.

Also participating in the Series A are existing investors: Balderton, SpeedInvest and Seedcamp, who were joined in the round by new backer RTP Global. Sonali De Rycker, partner at Accel, will join Primer’s board.

Founded by ex-PayPal employees – via PayPal’s acquisition of Braintree — Primer wants to offer one payments API to (hopefully) rule them all, with the explicit aim of bringing greater transparency to a merchant’s payment stack.

The thinking is that larger merchants, especially those that operate in more than one geography, have to support an array of payment methods, which brings with it significant technical overhead, a poor user experience, and lack of transparency.

Primer, now described as a “low code” platform, carries out a lot of that heavy-lifting on behalf of merchants and while remaining steadfastly payment method agnostic. By doing so, the idea is to reduce friction when adopting new payment methods as they come to market, and be able to provide better insights into things like how well each checkout option is performing.

As well as payment-service-providers (PSPs), the platform has connectors for fraud providers, chargeback services, subscription billing engines, BI tools, loyalty and rewards platforms. Both payments and non-payments services can be “seamlessly connected to the checkout experience and payments flow via workflows, enabling merchants to unify their fraud migration efforts, build sophisticated transaction routing, and solve complex flows – all with no code,” explains Primer.

Primer says the additional funding will be used for international business development and scaling its team. Billed as a remote-first company, Primer has 23 employees across six countries, and says it has already picked up traction across mid-market and large enterprise e-commerce merchants across Europe.

Comments Paul Anthony, Primer’s co-founder and head of product and engineering: “During our time at PayPal, we saw first-hand the technical burden online merchants face trying to offer the best payments experiences to their customers globally. Our low-code approach enables merchants’ payments teams to manage and expand their payments ecosystems, and maintain sophisticated payments logic with a familiar workflow UI”.

Meanwhile, the new investment brings Primer’s total funding to £17.8 million, and comes only a few weeks after the initial launch of the company’s platform.

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Gillmor Gang: Electrical Banana

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Thanks I’m giving for the start of the first big online season. Yes, the pandemic has put in place a gigantic move to the digital for our immediate and accelerated future. We all know how this plays out in the required state of things pre-vaccine. But there’s an undercurrent not so hidden there of a dynamic answer to my wife’s stubborn question: Where’s my Jetpack?

She’s a child of the 60s, a post-Beatles time of imploding dreams and dashed expectations. James Bond got to fly a Jetpack, but the telltale burned gasoline exhaust made the effect an artifact of what wasn’t going to happen. In an electric decade and noise-canceling AirPods, maybe it’s more likely to surface than not, but if so, what’s the next Jetpack?

My vote is for the electric newsletter, a notification engine that knows what I’m tracking, projects the trends circulating my core peers, and invests proactively in the products we want to accelerate. It’s a self healing economy, a research coordinator, a humor and media rewarder. On the Gang, we use a blend of live streaming, backchannel notifications, and everything up to but not including a newsletter.

From its earliest days, Twitter promised a future where RSS authority would be mined in a social context. What I mean by that is RSS delivered the ability, the chair in the sky opportunity Louis C.K. described, the chance to explore the world alongside the artists formerly known as accredited journalists. It was always a tough sell for the displaced gatekeepers, but flash forward to today and you can see they’re all bloggers and podcasters now.

The moment the meritocracy window opened, the definition of success moved to the readers, the viewers, the social enterprise as Marc Benioff insisted. Software as a service mined those social signals as fuel for what the iPhone delivered in the mobile wave. Now the mobile economy is expanding to the silicon on the desktop. M1 seems like an evolution, but its entry point on consumer laptops is designed to produce network effects in the same way Office 97 boosted Windows 95 into orbit.

So where is this electric newsletter if it’s so important? As a vehicle for finding stuff I didn’t know I cared about, newsletters suffer from too many of them with too few business models driving them. Subscriptions derive revenue but reduce the network effects of advertising supported subsidy of firewalls. You get reach but quantity explodes. Context glut is not a pretty thing, either.

Our early attempts at constructing a Gang newsletter spawned the realtimeTelegram feed; its group-shared notification stream valuable as much for what we skipped as when we dipped in to it. As a framing device for the Gillmor Gang recording sessions, we could anticipate both what we wanted to talk about and what we wanted to avoid. Trump fatigue gets burned off in Telegram, while science and innovation get drilled down on and fleshed out in advance.

Adding a Twitter feed (follow @gillmorgang) pushes Likes and retweets into the mix. The live recording stream generates Facebook Watch Parties and additional comments. An edited version here on TechCrunch adds this related commentary. But where’s the newsletter for all these live pieces?

Perhaps the answer goes back to the Jetpack? It may not be the Jetpack we are looking for, but rather the components that make up this stream as a service. A Jetpack offers the dream of instant teleportation without the traffic jams or being polite about your Uber driver’s musical taste. Zoom already offers some of that promise, where saving the commute opens up hours in your day. Zoom-enabled shopping and delivery management will go a long way.

As Donovan presciently proclaimed, Electrical Banana gonna to be the very next phase. My electric newsletter is the perfect definition of a pipe dream. It’s not so much as when it’s going to get here as what.

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, November 20, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

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Firstminute Capital launches second $111 fund, featuring a whos-who of founders as LPs

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London HQ’d Firstminute Capital has announced its second early-stage venture fund of $111m (£87m). Founded and cornerstoned in 2016 by Brent Hoberman CBE (best known as co-founder of lastminute.com and MADE.com), together with Spencer Crawley (formerly of Goldman Sachs), this new fund comes after the first fund of $100M, giving Firstminute $211M assets under management, investing across Europe and the US at the seed stage.

Firstminute’s team of 18 is based in London, Stockholm and Berlin and now has plans to open an office in LA next year.

Of note is the fact that its LPs now number 70 founders of billion-dollar businesses as investors, and that Firstminute is being so open. VCs typically do not reveal much information about LPs. Hoberman has clearly also leveraged his position as founder of the Founders Forum group which runs events and activities for European tech founders.

The fact that so many founders – largely drawn from the ranks of European startups – have invested is unusual, certainly for European VC funds. It includes 16 founders of $10bn+ “decacorn” technology businesses, including Palantir, Wayfair, Ocado, MongoDB, Zalando, Supercell and Check Point, as well as founders from Huda Beauty, Graphcore and Rappi. Included are board members and CEOs from large technology companies.

RIT Capital Partners is the fund’s anchor investor. This is their first such position in a European venture capital firm. They previously backed leading US funds including Sequoia, Benchmark, Thrive and Iconiq. Additional institutional investors include the Chinese technology giant Tencent, FMCG conglomerate Henkel, London-based venture fund Atomico and four Californian multi-stage firms.

The existing Fund I portfolio consists of 56 companies that have collectively raised approximately $0.5bn in funding.

Firstminute says half of its current portfolio companies have UK headquarters, with the remaining half split between continental Europe and North America. Two-thirds of the businesses are B2B and one third are B2C.

Hoberman said in a statement: “European technology is reaching escape velocity, and it’s fantastic to enable so many global serial entrepreneurs to give their experience to the next generation: we have over 70 unicorn founders joining us on this journey so far, and more to come as we approach final close. Seed venture investing is attracting ever higher quality backers which will help more founders succeed.”

Crawley, firstminute Co-founder & General Partner, said: “Our healthcare systems, workplaces and educational establishments face fresh complexities. The service economy is having to re-imagine itself. The gap between financial markets and the real economy is growing wider (with the young most at risk). Start-ups are not a panacea, but emerging technology companies have a key role to play in today’s recovery strategy, both in their mindset and the products they will create.”

I asked Hoberman to what extent was the internationalization of the fund‘s geographical footprint related to Brexit?

“Some investors have asked us about the risks of Brexit to a UK-based fund and it’s been great to highlight the international nature of our approach,” he said. “The potential threats of a bad Brexit deal ensured we moved faster to cover more geographies.”

I also asked him what advantages or disadvantages does having so many founders as LPs confer on the fund?

“Operators understand the rollercoaster of the founder journey well. They know the path to success is rarely linear. They have lived the scaling journey with all its challenges. They can impart this wisdom to the next generation.

“These founders know about blitzscaling, board management, prioritization, fundraising, internationalization and above all the role of talent and teams. This knowledge can make the difference between failure and extraordinary success.

“Furthermore successful founders often have world-class network, useful for hiring, internationalization and business development deals,” he said.

Firstminute also announced some team changes. Arek Wylegalski, formerly of Index Ventures, has joined as a partner for Fund II. Arek was a Venture Partner with the firm during Fund I. Lina Wenner, formerly of BCG, has been promoted to Associate Partner, and Camilla Mazzolini, Clara Lindh Bergendorff and Sam Endacott have been promoted to Principals. Min Nolan, Head of Platform & Operations, and Anais Benazet, Head of Community, lead the portfolio support function, whilst Henry Lane-Fox, Steve Crossan and Tommy Stadlen continue to invest as venture partners.

The backers of firstminute capital funds include the founders and/or executives from the companies listed below:

firstminute LPs – Founders of $10bn+ companies, include:

Joe Lonsdale (Palantir Technologies), Robert Gentz (Zalando), Niraj Shah (Wayfair), Tim Steiner (Ocado), Marius Nacht (Check Point), Kevin Ryan (MongoDB), Ilkka Paananen (Supercell), Adyen, Autonomy, Airtel.

firstminute LPs – Founders of $1bn+ companies, include:

Sebastian Mejia (Rappi), Ross Mason (MuleSoft), Pete Flint (Trulia), Martin Migoya (Globant), Vikrant Bhargava (PartyGaming), Martin Varsavsky (Jazztel, Fon, Eolia), Fabrice Grinda (OLX), Steve Fredette (Toast), Rafi Gidron (Chromatis), Simon Nixon (Moneysupermarket), Lars Hinrichs (XING), Johan Brand (Kahoot), Huda Kattan (Huda Beauty), Tom Chapman & Ruth Chapman (Matchesfashion), Nigel Toon (Graphcore), Carl Pei (OnePlus), Hanzade Dogan (Hepsiburada), Barry Smith (Skyscanner), Sir Charles Dunstone (Carphone Warehouse), Hamish Shephard (HelloFresh), Alexander Rittweger (Payback), Marketshare, King.com, BlaBlaCar, Qunar, Net-a-Porter, Fox Kids Europe, Webhelp, Betfair, Datamonitor, Tradex Technologies, Zoopla.

firstminute LPs – Current or Former CEOs and Chairs, include:

Eric Schmidt (former Chairman and CEO, Google), Michael Lynton (Chairman, Snap and Warner Music Group, former CEO and Chairman, Sony), Sir Paul Ruddock (Co-founder & former CEO of Lansdowne Partners, Chairman Oxford University Endowment), Lord Mervyn Davies (Chairman of Corsair Capital, former Minister and Standard Chartered CEO & Chairman), Linda Fayne Levinson (former Chairwoman of Hertz), Jeremy Coller (Founder, Chairman and CIO Coller Capital), David Giampaolo (Chairman, Gousto), Ian Gallienne (CEO, Sienna Capital), Alexander de Carvalho (Co-founder & CIO of Public.io, Heineken NED), Babatunde Soyoye (Co-founder and Managing Partner, Helios Investment Partners), Nextdoor, PicsArt, Booking.com, Nordeus, Kinnevik AB, JCDecaux Holdings.

firstminute LPs – Institutional Investors, include:

RIT Capital Partners, Tencent, Atomico, Henkel, Felicis Ventures, The Raine Group, LionTree Partners, Lombard Odier.

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