A screenshot of Facebook app manager Fidji Simo interviewed by a Bloomberg social media reporter … [+]
By Rob Pegoraro
After years of being invited to speak online, Facebook wants us to use our mouths directly.
On Monday, the social network announced a range of audio features aimed at making the spoken word an important part of the Facebook experience.
And on Tuesday, Facebook app boss Fidji Simo announced more details about these plans in two appearances at the collision conference – also when other speakers at this online event recalled Facebook’s missteps on social media in the past.
Simo introduced these upcoming features – sound effects tools that Facebook users can play with, short form “Soundbites” that they can record and share, the ability to find and play podcasts in the Facebook app, and live audio rooms in Facebook and Messenger – Facebook’s answer to people who rarely want to look each other in the face.
“We have seen an increase in audio experiences on all platforms in recent years,” Simo told Bloomberg social media reporter Kurt Wagner. “But over the last year in particular, especially in the context of the pandemic, we’ve seen people turn to audio experiences, really because they want a meatier way of connecting with others that doesn’t create all of the video fatigue that I do think we have them all. “
Many of Facebook’s rivals thought similarly. Spotify has invested heavily in its podcast business, Apple AAPL announced its own premium podcast platform Tuesday, and the early success of the live audio room app Clubhouse has already prompted Twitter to offer its own version of the Spaces concept .
Simo said Facebook can incorporate all of these different forms of audio. For example, a creator could record an audio room to turn it into a podcast and then share snippets of it as sound bites.
Or as she said in a subsequent Q&A session on Tuesday, “This room is really ready for reinvention because it is very fragmented right now.”
Wagner asked Simo about Facebook’s story of copying features from competitors – see Instagram, which clones Snapchat with stories and then mimics TikTok with reels.
“The clubhouse did something amazing,” said Simo. “I know how difficult it is to create a new social format.”
However, Facebook could integrate these functions into a huge universe of developed communities. And it will provide tools that the developers can use with the audience to make some money on their spoken word output: “We know very well that these formats won’t work if the developers don’t have a way to monetize them.”
In both collision appearances, Simo emphasized how Facebook can use its achievements in artificial intelligence.
For example, in the Q&A, she noted how the upcoming sound studio tools will give your voice the equivalent of messenger video filters (itself an answer to the comparable function of Snapchat). For example, they can make you sound like a radio announcer or an alien, or give you what Simo calls “Audio Green Screens”, background noise like a beach or a forest.
Simo informed Wagner that Facebook would use its existing speech-to-text technology to provide live subtitles and to watch out for violations of its content guidelines.
“We will automatically detect violations of our community standards using our artificial intelligence technology right on the audio,” she said.
Listeners can also report violations of Facebook rules, she added, “We have a team of human reviewers who will review this in real time to make sure this content is really up to our standards.”
However, Facebook’s previous attempts to stop cruelty in real time on its platform have impacted the mental health of moderators who watch people in their most hideous form. There is no reason to believe that this pattern will not repeat itself in live audio.
Alex Stamos, former Facebook chief information security officer and now director of Stanford University’s Internet Observatory, said in a collision Q&A Tuesday, “With hundreds of years of people being bad about each other, we need to take this into account when we create new systems design. ”
After years of disregarding this lesson, Facebook began putting together a “Responsible Innovation” team in 2019 to test new functions for their potential for abuse. Simo hasn’t addressed this in their appearances, but Thursday’s Facebook spokesman Che’von Lewis confirmed in an email that this group was working on the new audio features.
One of Stamos’ Stanford colleagues, Research Manager Renée DiResta, gave Facebook credit for learning between the 2016 and 2020 elections.
“When there were cases of false and misleading content that went viral, they acted pretty quickly,” she said on a collision panel on Wednesday. “They were very, very much more active in 2020.”
Hopefully these lessons will also influence Facebook’s ventures into live audio. Because the enormous size of this social network makes it different from any other in one respect: what happens badly on Facebook doesn’t stay on Facebook.
Updated to correct when Facebook started its “Responsible Innovation” efforts.