WASHINGTON — The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday filed for an injunction to block Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, from buying a virtual reality company called Within, potentially limiting the company’s push into the so-called metaverse and signaling a shift in how the agency is approaching tech deals.
The antitrust lawsuit is the first under Lina Khan, the commission’s chair and a leading progressive critic of corporate concentration, against one of the tech giants. Ms. Khan has argued that regulators must stop competition and consumer protection violations when it comes to the bleeding edge of technology, including virtual and augmented reality, and not just in areas where the companies have already become behemoths.
The F.T.C.’s request for an injunction puts Ms. Khan on a collision course with Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, who is also named as a defendant in the request. He has poured billions of dollars into building products for virtual and augmented reality, betting that the immersive world of the metaverse is the next technology frontier. The lawsuit could crimp those ambitions.
in its lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. “Instead, it chose to buy” a top company in what the government called a “vitally important” category.
attack on innovation and that the agency was “sending a chilling message to anyone who wishes to innovate in V.R.”
Meta had said it would acquire Within, which produces the highly popular fitness app called Supernatural, last year for an undisclosed sum. The company has promoted its virtual reality headsets for fitness and health purposes.
The F.T.C.’s lawsuit is highly unusual and pushes the boundaries of antitrust law. Regulators mostly focus on deals between large companies in large markets, rather than their acquisitions of small start-ups in nascent tech areas. Courts have also been skeptical applying antitrust law to block mergers based on the hypothetical that the two companies involved would later become competitors if the deal was blocked.
Instagram, the photo-sharing app that has since grown to more than one billion regular users. Instagram has helped Meta dominate the market on social photo sharing, though other start-ups have sprung up since.
lawsuit against Facebook that argued the company shut down nascent competition through acquisitions. The Justice Department has also sued Google over whether the company abused a monopoly over online search.
More cases could be coming. The F.T.C. is investigating whether Amazon has violated antitrust laws, and the Justice Department has inquiries into Google’s dominance over advertising technology and into Apple’s App Store policies.
For Mr. Zuckerberg, the F.T.C. lawsuit is a setback. He has been pushing Meta away from its roots in social networking as its apps, like Facebook and Instagram, face more competition amid stumbles in privacy and content moderation. Instead, he has bet on the metaverse.
Mr. Zuckerberg has reassigned employees and put a top lieutenant in charge of metaverse efforts. He has also authorized executives to pursue some of the most popular games in the V.R. space. In 2019, Facebook purchased Beat Games, makers of the hit title Beat Saber, one of the top V.R. games on the Oculus platform. He has also authorized the purchase of roughly half a dozen other virtual reality or gaming studios over the past three years.
The F.T.C. filed suit on Wednesday hours before Meta reported its first decline in quarterly revenue since it went public in 2012. The company has recently trimmed employee perks and reined in spending amid uncertain economic conditions. John Newman, the deputy director of the F.T.C.’s Bureau of Competition, said the agency acted on the Within deal because Meta was “trying to buy its way to the top.” The company already owned a best-selling virtual reality fitness app, he said, but then chose to acquire Within’s Supernatural app “to buy market position.” He said the deal was “an illegal acquisition, and we will pursue all appropriate relief.”
The F.T.C.’s vote to authorize the filing was split 3 to 2. Christine Wilson, a Republican commissioner at the agency, said she was one of the two votes against the lawsuit. She declined to comment onher reasoning.
The F.T.C. said in its request that asking for an injunction was sometimes a prelude to filing a complaint against a merger, which could embroil Meta and the agency in a lengthy trial and appeals process. A F.T.C. spokeswoman said the agency had not filed such a complaint and declined to comment further on the agency’s strategy.
Ms. Khan, 33, who was appointed by President Biden last year to acclaim from the left, has tried to make good on expansive promises to rein in corporate power. She became prominent after she wrote an article in law school in 2017 criticizing Amazon. As F.T.C. chair, she has called for regulators to vigorously enforce antitrust laws and has said she may craft sweeping online privacy rules that would implicate Silicon Valley companies.
The lawsuit drew praise from Ms. Khan’s allies. Sandeep Vaheesan, the legal director of the Open Markets Institute, a liberal think tank, said in a statement that the lawsuit was a “step toward making building, not buying, the norm for Facebook.”
But tech industry allies assailed Ms. Khan’s actions. Adam Kovacevich, the chief executive of Chamber of Progress, an industry group funded partly by Meta, said that with the new lawsuit, “the agency is more focused on getting headlines than results.” He said Meta “isn’t any closer than pickleball or synchronized swimming are to locking up the fitness market.”
Meta said in a blog post that the F.T.C. would fail to prove that the Within deal would “substantially lessen competition,” which is the bar that is typically set to block a deal under federal antitrust law.
In its lawsuit, the F.T.C. said that if Meta bought Within’s Supernatural, it would no longer have an incentive to improve Beat Saber, the virtual reality fitness game it already owns. But Nikhil Shanbhag, an associate general counsel for Meta, said in the blog post that the games weren’t competitors.
“Beat Saber is a game people play to have fun and it has many competitors,” he said. “Supernatural couldn’t be more different.”
SAN FRANCISCO — Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chief executive of the company formerly known as Facebook, called his top lieutenants for the social network to a last-minute meeting in the San Francisco Bay Area this month. On the agenda: a “work-athon” to discuss the road map for improving the main Facebook app, including a revamp that would change how users browse the service.
For weeks beforehand, Mr. Zuckerberg had sent his executives messages about the overhaul, pressing them to increase the velocity and execution of their work, people with knowledge of the matter said. Some executives — who had to read a 122-page slide deck about the changes — were beginning to sweat at the unusual level of intensity, they said.
Facebook’s leaders flew in from around the world for the summit, the people said, and Mr. Zuckerberg and the group pored over each slide. Within days, the team unveiled an update to the Facebook app to better compete with a top rival, TikTok.
trimmed perks, reshuffled his leadership team and made it clear he would cut low-performing employees. Those who are not on board are welcome to leave, he has said. Managers have sent out memos to convey the seriousness of the approach — one, which was shared with The New York Times, had the title “Operating With Increased Intensity.”
the so-called metaverse. Across Silicon Valley, he and other executives who built what many refer to as Web 2.0 — a more social, app-focused version of the internet — are rethinking and upending their original vision after their platforms were plagued by privacy stumbles, toxic content and misinformation.
The moment is reminiscent of other bet-the-company gambles, such as when Netflix killed off its DVD-mailing business last decade to focus on streaming. But Mr. Zuckerberg is making these moves as Meta’s back is against the wall. The company is staring into the barrel of a global recession. Competitors like TikTok, YouTube and Apple are bearing down.
And success is far from guaranteed. In recent months, Meta’s profits have fallen and revenue has slowed as the company has spent lavishly on the metaverse and as the economic slowdown has hurt its advertising business. Its stock has plunged.
“When Mark gets super focused on something, it becomes all hands on deck within the company,” said Katie Harbath, a former Facebook policy director and the founder of Anchor Change, a consulting firm that works on tech and democracy issues. “Teams will quickly drop other work to pivot to the issue at hand, and the pressure is intense to move fast to show progress.”
Andrew Bosworth, who is known as Boz, to chief technology officer, leading hardware efforts for the metaverse. He promoted other loyalists, too, including Javier Olivan, the new chief operating officer; Nick Clegg, who became president of global affairs; and Guy Rosen, who took on a new role of chief information security officer.
In June, Sheryl Sandberg, who was Mr. Zuckerberg’s No. 2 for 14 years, said she would step down this fall. While she spent more than a decade building Facebook’s advertising systems, she was less interested in doing the same for the metaverse, people familiar with her plans have said.
Mr. Zuckerberg has moved thousands of workers into different teams for the metaverse, training their focus on aspirational projects like hardware glasses, wearables and a new operating system for those devices.
“It’s an existential bet on where people over the next decade will connect, express and identify with one another,” said Matthew Ball, a longtime tech executive and the author of a book on the metaverse. “If you have the cash, the engineers, the users and the conviction to take a swing at that, then you should.”
But the efforts are far from cheap. Facebook’s Reality Labs division, which is building augmented and virtual reality products, has dragged down the company’s balance sheet; the hardware unit lost nearly $3 billion in the first quarter alone.
privacy changes from Apple that have hampered its ability to measure the effectiveness of ads on iPhones. TikTok, the Chinese-owned video app, has stolen young audiences from Meta’s core apps like Instagram and Facebook. These challenges are coinciding with a brutal macroeconomic environment, which has pushed Apple, Google, Microsoft and Twitter to freeze or slow hiring.
a memo last month, Chris Cox, Meta’s chief product officer, said the economic environment called for “leaner, meaner, better executing teams.”
In an employee meeting around the same time, Mr. Zuckerberg said he knew that not everyone would be on board for the changes. That was fine, he told employees.
“I think some of you might decide that this place isn’t for you, and that self-selection is OK with me,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “Realistically, there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn’t be here.”
Another memo circulated internally among workers this month was titled “Operating With Increased Intensity.” In the memo, a Meta vice president said managers should begin to “think about every person on their team and the value they are adding.”
“If a direct report is coasting or a low performer, they are not who we need; they are failing this company,” the memo said. “As a manager, you cannot allow someone to be net neutral or negative for Meta.”
investment priorities” for the company in the second half of this year.
other prototypes. Bloomberg reported earlier on the smart watch.
posted an update to his Facebook profile, noting some coming changes in the app. Facebook would start pushing people into a more video-heavy feed with more suggested content, emulating how TikTok operates.
Meta has been investing heavily in video and discovery, aiming to beef up its artificial intelligence and to improve “discovery algorithms” that suggest engaging content to users without them having to work to find it.
In the past, Facebook has tested major product updates with a few English-speaking audiences to see how they perform before rolling them out more widely. But, this time, the 2.93 billion people around the world who use the social networking app will receive the update simultaneously.
It is a sign, some Meta employees said, of just how much Mr. Zuckerberg means business.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, made securing the 2020 U.S. election a top priority. He met regularly with an election team, which included more than 300 people from across his company, to prevent misinformation from spreading on the social network. He asked civil rights leaders for advice on upholding voter rights.
The core election team at Facebook, which was renamed Meta last year, has since been dispersed. Roughly 60 people are now focused primarily on elections, while others split their time on other projects. They meet with another executive, not Mr. Zuckerberg. And the chief executive has not talked recently with civil rights groups, even as some have asked him to pay more attention to the midterm elections in November.
Safeguarding elections is no longer Mr. Zuckerberg’s top concern, said four Meta employees with knowledge of the situation. Instead, he is focused on transforming his company into a provider of the immersive world of the metaverse, which he sees as the next frontier of growth, said the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly.
hearings on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot have underlined how precarious elections can be. And dozens of political candidates are running this November on the false premise that former President Donald J. Trump was robbed of the 2020 election, with social media platforms continuing to be a key way to reach American voters.
2000 Mules,” a film that falsely claims the 2020 election was stolen from Mr. Trump, was widely shared on Facebook and Instagram, garnering more than 430,000 interactions, according to an analysis by The New York Times. In posts about the film, commenters said they expected election fraud this year and warned against using mail-in voting and electronic voting machines.
$44 billion sale to Elon Musk, three employees with knowledge of the situation said. Mr. Musk has suggested that he wants fewer rules about what can and cannot be posted on the service.
barred Mr. Trump from its platforms after the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has worked over the years to limit political falsehoods on its sites. Tom Reynolds, a Meta spokesman, said the company had “taken a comprehensive approach to how elections play out on our platforms since before the U.S. 2020 elections and through the dozens of global elections since then.”
recently raised doubts about the country’s electoral process. Latvia, Bosnia and Slovenia are also holding elections in October.
“People in the U.S. are almost certainly getting the Rolls-Royce treatment when it comes to any integrity on any platform, especially for U.S. elections,” said Sahar Massachi, the executive director of the think tank Integrity Institute and a former Facebook employee. “And so however bad it is here, think about how much worse it is everywhere else.”
Facebook’s role in potentially distorting elections became evident after 2016, when Russian operatives used the site to spread inflammatory content and divide American voters in the U.S. presidential election. In 2018, Mr. Zuckerberg testified before Congress that election security was his top priority.
banning QAnon conspiracy theory posts and groups in October 2020.
Around the same time, Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $400 million to local governments to fund poll workers, pay for rental fees for polling places, provide personal protective equipment and cover other administrative costs.
The week before the November 2020 election, Meta also froze all political advertising to limit the spread of falsehoods.
But while there were successes — the company kept foreign election interference off the platform — it struggled with how to handle Mr. Trump, who used his Facebook account to amplify false claims of voter fraud. After the Jan. 6 riot, Facebook barred Mr. Trump from posting. He is eligible for reinstatement in January.
Frances Haugen, a Facebook employee turned whistle-blower, filed complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission accusing the company of removing election safety features too soon after the 2020 election. Facebook made growth and engagement its priorities over security, she said.
fully realized digital world that exists beyond the one in which we live. It was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” and the concept was further explored by Ernest Cline in his novel “Ready Player One.”
The future. Many people in tech believe the metaverse will herald an era in which our virtual lives will play as important a role as our physical realities. Some experts warn that it could still turn out to be a fad or even dangerous.
Mr. Zuckerberg no longer meets weekly with those focused on election security, said the four employees, though he receives their reports. Instead, they meet with Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs.
Several civil right groups said they had noticed Meta’s shift in priorities. Mr. Zuckerberg isn’t involved in discussions with them as he once was, nor are other top Meta executives, they said.
“I’m concerned,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who talked with Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Meta’s chief operating officer, ahead of the 2020 election. “It appears to be out of sight, out of mind.” (Ms. Sandberg has announced that she will leave Meta this fall.)
wrote a letter to Mr. Zuckerberg and the chief executives of YouTube, Twitter, Snap and other platforms. They called for them to take down posts about the lie that Mr. Trump won the 2020 election and to slow the spread of election misinformation before the midterms.
Yosef Getachew, a director at the nonprofit public advocacy organization Common Cause, whose group studied 2020 election misinformation on social media, said the companies had not responded.
“The Big Lie is front and center in the midterms with so many candidates using it to pre-emptively declare that the 2022 election will be stolen,” he said, pointing to recent tweets from politicians in Michigan and Arizona who falsely said dead people cast votes for Democrats. “Now is not the time to stop enforcing against the Big Lie.”
Ms. Sandberg flirted with leaving Facebook. In 2016, she told colleagues that if Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, won the White House she would most likely assume a job in Washington, three people who spoke to her about the move at the time said. In 2018, after revelations about Cambridge Analytica and Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, she again told colleagues that she was considering leaving but did not want to do so when the company was in crisis.
Last year, Mr. Zuckerberg said his company was making a new bet and was going all in on the metaverse, which he called “the successor to the mobile internet.” In his announcement, Ms. Sandberg made only a cameo, while other executives were more prominently featured.
As Mr. Zuckerberg overhauled the company to focus on the metaverse, some of Ms. Sandberg’s responsibilities were spread among other executives. Nick Clegg, the president of global affairs and a former British deputy prime minister, became the company’s chief spokesman, a role that Ms. Sandberg had once taken. In February, Mr. Clegg was promoted to president of global affairs for Meta.
Ms. Sandberg’s profile dimmed. She concentrated on building the ads business and growing the number of small businesses on Facebook.
She was also focused on personal matters. Dave Goldberg, her husband, had died unexpectedly in 2015. (Ms. Sandberg’s second book, “Option B,” was about dealing with grief.) She later met Mr. Bernthal, and he and his three children moved to her Silicon Valley home from Southern California during the pandemic. Ms. Sandberg, who had two children with Mr. Goldberg, was focused on integrating the families and planning for her summer wedding, a person close to her said.
Meta’s transition to the metaverse has not been easy. The company has spent heavily on metaverse products while its advertising business has stumbled, partly because privacy changes made by Apple have hurt targeted advertising. In February, Meta’s market value plunged more than $230 billion, its biggest one-day wipeout, after it reported financial results that showed it was struggling to make the leap to the metaverse.
In the interview, Ms. Sandberg said Meta faced near-term challenges but would weather the storm, as it had during past challenges. “When we went public, we had no mobile ads,” Ms. Sandberg said, citing the company’s rapid transition from desktop computers to smartphones last decade. “We have done this before.”
Ahead of the 2020 elections, Connecticut confronted a bevy of falsehoods about voting that swirled around online. One, widely viewed on Facebook, wrongly said absentee ballots had been sent to dead people. On Twitter, users spread a false post that a tractor-trailer carrying ballots had crashed on Interstate 95, sending thousands of voter slips into the air and across the highway.
Concerned about a similar deluge of unfounded rumors and lies around this year’s midterm elections, the state plans to spend nearly $2 million on marketing to share factual information about voting, and to create its first-ever position for an expert in combating misinformation. With a salary of $150,000, the person is expected to comb fringe sites like 4chan, far-right social networks like Gettr and Rumble, and mainstream social media sites to root out early misinformation narratives about voting before they go viral, and then urge the companies to remove or flag the posts that contain false information.
“We have to have situational awareness by looking into all the incoming threats to the integrity of elections,” said Scott Bates, Connecticut’s deputy secretary of the state. “Misinformation can erode people’s confidence in elections, and we view that as a critical threat to the democratic process.”
Connecticut joins a handful of states preparing to fight an onslaught of rumors and lies about this year’s elections.
ABC/Ipsos poll from January, only 20 percent of respondents said they were “very confident” in the integrity of the election system and 39 percent said they felt “somewhat confident.” Numerous Republican candidates have embraced former President Donald J. Trump’s falsehoods about the 2020 election, campaigning — often successfully — on the untrue claim that it was stolen from him.
Some conservatives and civil rights groups are almost certain to complain that the efforts to limit misinformation could restrict free speech. Florida, led by Republicans, has enacted legislation limiting the kind of social media moderation that sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter can do, with supporters saying the sites constrict conservative voices. (A U.S. appeals court recently blocked most aspects of the law.) On the federal level, the Department of Homeland Security recently paused the work of an advisory board on disinformation after a barrage of criticism from conservative lawmakers and free speech advocates that the group could suppress speech.
“State and local governments are well situated to reduce harms from dis- and misinformation by providing timely, accurate and trustworthy information,” said Rachel Goodman, a lawyer at Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan advocacy group. “But in order to maintain that trust, they must make clear that they are not engaging in any kind of censorship or surveillance that would raise constitutional concerns.”
Connecticut and Colorado officials said that the problem of misinformation had only worsened since 2020 and that without a more concerted push to counteract it, even more voters could lose faith in the integrity of elections. They also said they feared for the safety of some election workers.
“We are seeing a threat atmosphere unlike anything this country has seen before,” said Jena Griswold, the secretary of state of Colorado. Ms. Griswold, a Democrat who is up for re-election this fall, has received threats for upholding 2020 election results and refuting Mr. Trump’s false claims of fraudulent voting in the state.
Other secretaries of state, who head the office typically charged with overseeing elections, have received similar pushback. In Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who certified President Biden’s win in the state, has faced fierce criticism laced with false claims about the 2020 election.
In his primary race this year, Mr. Raffensperger batted down misinformation that there were 66,000 underage voters, 2,400 unregistered voters and more than 10,350 dead people who cast ballots in the presidential election. None of the claims are true. He won his primary last week.
Colorado is redeploying a misinformation team that the state created for the 2020 election. The team is composed of three election security experts who monitor the internet for misinformation and then report it to federal law enforcement.
Ms. Griswold will oversee the team, called the Rapid Response Election Security Cyber Unit. It looks only for election-related misinformation on issues like absentee voting, polling locations and eligibility, she said.
“Facts still exist, and lies are being used to chip away at our fundamental freedoms,” Ms. Griswold said.
Connecticut officials said the state’s goal was to patrol the internet for election falsehoods. On May 7, the Connecticut Legislature approved $2 million for internet, TV, mail and radio education campaigns on the election process, and to hire an election information security officer.
Officials said they would prefer candidates fluent in both English and Spanish, to address the spread of misinformation in both languages. The officer would track down viral misinformation posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, and look for emerging narratives and memes, especially on fringe social media platforms and the dark web.
“We know we can’t boil the ocean, but we have to figure out where the threat is coming from, and before it metastasizes,” Mr. Bates said.
“This spreads like a virus,” Ms. Hochul said, demanding that social media executives evaluate their policies to ensure that “everything is being done that they can to make sure that this information is not spread.”
There may be no easy answers. Platforms like Facebook, Twitch and Twitter have made strides in recent years, the experts said, in removing violent content and videos faster. In the wake of the shooting in New Zealand, social platforms and countries around the world joined an initiative called the Christchurch Call to Action and agreed to work closely to combat terrorism and violent extremism content. One tool that social sites have used is a shared database of hashes, or digital footprints of images, that can flag inappropriate content and have it taken down quickly.
But in this case, Ms. Douek said, Facebook seemed to have fallen short despite the hash system. Facebook posts that linked to the video posted on Streamable generated more than 43,000 interactions, according to CrowdTangle, a web analytics tool, and some posts were up for more than nine hours.
When users tried to flag the content as violating Facebook’s rules, which do not permit content that “glorifies violence,” they were told in some cases that the links did not run afoul of Facebook’s policies, according to screenshots viewed by The New York Times.
Facebook has since started to remove posts with links to the video, and a Facebook spokesman said the posts do violate the platform’s rules. Asked why some users were notified that posts with links to the video did not violate its standards, the spokesman did not have an answer.
Twitter had not removed many posts with links to the shooting video, and in several cases, the video had been uploaded directly to the platform. A company spokeswoman initially said the site might remove some instances of the video or add a sensitive content warning, then later said Twitter would remove all videos related to the attack after The Times asked for clarification.
A spokeswoman at Hopin, the video conferencing service that owns Streamable, said the platform was working to remove the video and delete the accounts of people who had uploaded it.
When Google employees returned to their mostly empty offices this month, they were told to relax. Office time should be “not only productive but also fun.” Explore the place a little. Don’t book back-to-back meetings.
Also, don’t forget to attend the private show by Lizzo, one of the hottest pop stars in the country. If that’s not enough, the company is also planning “pop-up events” that will feature “every Googler’s favorite duo: food and swag.”
But Google employees in Boulder, Colo., were still reminded of what they were giving up when the company gave them mouse pads with the image of a sad-eyed cat. Underneath the pet was a plea: “You’re not going to RTO, right?”
R.T.O., for return to office, is an abbreviation born of the pandemic. It is a recognition of how Covid-19 forced many companies to abandon office buildings and empty cubicles. The pandemic proved that being in the office does not necessarily equal greater productivity, and some firms continued to thrive without meeting in person.
a happy hour with its chief executive, Cristiano Amon, at its San Diego offices for several thousand employees with free food, drink and T-shirts. The company also started offering weekly events such as pop-up snack stands on “Take a Break Tuesday” and group fitness classes for “Wellness Wednesday.”
the surveys, is that employees want to see colleagues in person.
After a number of postponements, Google kicked off its hybrid work schedule on April 4, requiring most employees to show up at U.S. offices a few days a week. Apple started easing staff back to the office on Monday, with workers expected to check in at the office once a week at first.
reimburse $49 monthly leases for an electric scooter as part of its transportation options for staff. Google also plans to also start experimenting with different office designs to adapt to changing work styles.
When Microsoft employees returned to their offices in February as part of a hybrid work schedule, they were greeted with “appreciation events” and lawn games such as cornhole and life-size chess. There were classes for spring basket making and canvas painting. The campus pub transformed into a beer, wine and “mocktail” garden.
And, of course, there was free food and drink: pizzas, sandwiches and specialty coffees. Microsoft paid for food trucks with offerings including fried chicken, tacos, gyros, Korean food and barbecue.
Unlike other technology companies, Microsoft expects employees to pay for their own food at the office. One employee marveled at how big a draw the free food was.
signed a letter urging management to be more open to flexible work arrangements. It was a rare show of dissent from the company’s rank-and-file, who historically have been less willing to openly challenge executives on workplace matters.
But as tech companies grapple with offering employees greater work flexibility, the firms are also scaling back some office perks.
cutting back or eliminating free services like laundry and dry cleaning. Google, like some other companies, has said it approved requests from thousands of employees to work remotely or transfer to a different office. But if employees move to a less expensive location, Google is cutting pay, arguing that it has always factored in where a person was hired in setting compensation.
Clio, a legal software company in Burnaby, British Columbia, won’t force its employees back to the office. But last week, it gave a party at its offices.
There was upbeat music. There was an asymmetrical balloon sculpture in Clio’s signature bright blue, dark blue, coral and white — perfect for selfies. One of Clio’s best-known workers donned a safari costume to give tours of the facility. At 2 p.m., the company held a cupcake social.
To make its work spaces feel more like home, the company moved desks to the perimeter, allowing Clions — what the company calls its employees — to gaze out at the office complex’s cherry blossoms while banging out emails. A foosball table was upgraded to a workstation with chairs on either end, “so you could have a meeting while playing foosball with your laptop on it,” said Natalie Archibald, Clio’s vice president of people.
Clio’s Burnaby office, which employs 350, is open at only half capacity. Spaced-out desks must be reserved, and employees got red, yellow and green lanyards to convey their comfort levels with handshakes.
Only around 60 people came in that Monday. “To be able to have an IRL laugh rather than an emoji response,” Ms. Archibald said. “People are just excited for that.”
While Meta adjusts, some small businesses have begun seeking other avenues for ads. Shawn Baker, the owner of Baker SoftWash, an exterior cleaning company in Mooresville, N.C., said it previously took about $6 of Facebook ads to identify a new customer. Now it costs $27 because the ads do not find the right people, he said.
Mr. Baker has started spending $200 a month to advertise through Google’s marketing program for local businesses, which surfaces his website when people who live in the area search for cleaners. To compensate for those higher marketing costs, he has raised his prices 7 percent.
“You’re spending more money now than what you had to spend before to do the same things,” he said.
Other tech giants with first-party information are capitalizing on the change. Amazon, for example, has reams of data on its customers, including what they buy, where they reside, and what movies or TV shows they stream.
In February, Amazon disclosed the size of its advertising business — $31.2 billion in revenue in 2021 — for the first time. That makes advertising its third-largest source of sales after e-commerce and cloud computing. Amazon declined to comment.
Amber Murray, the owner of See Your Strength in St. George, Utah, which sells stickers online for people with anxiety, started experimenting with ads on Amazon after the performance of Facebook ads deteriorated. The results were remarkable, she said.
In February, she paid about $200 for Amazon to feature her products near the top of search results when customers looked up textured stickers. Sales totaled $250 a day and continued to grow, she said. When she spent $85 on a Facebook ad campaign in January, it yielded just $37.50 in sales, she said.
“I think the golden days of Facebook advertising are over,” Ms. Murray said. “On Amazon, people are looking for you, instead of you telling people what they should want.”
Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, took an unusual step last week: It suspended some of the quality controls that ensure that posts from users in Russia, Ukraine and other Eastern European countries meet its rules.
Under the change, Meta temporarily stopped tracking whether its workers who monitor Facebook and Instagram posts from those areas were accurately enforcing its content guidelines, six people with knowledge of the situation said. That’s because the workers could not keep up with shifting rules about what kinds of posts were allowed about the war in Ukraine, they said.
Meta has made more than half a dozen content policy revisions since Russia invaded Ukraine last month. The company has permitted posts about the conflict that it would normally have taken down — including some calling for the death of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and violence against Russian soldiers — before changing its mind or drawing up new guidelines, the people said.
The result has been internal confusion, especially among the content moderators who patrol Facebook and Instagram for text and images with gore, hate speech and incitements to violence. Meta has sometimes shifted its rules on a daily basis, causing whiplash, said the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly.
contended with pressure from Russian and Ukrainian authorities over the information battle about the conflict. And internally, it has dealt with discontent about its decisions, including from Russian employees concerned for their safety and Ukrainian workers who want the company to be tougher on Kremlin-affiliated organizations online, three people said.
Meta has weathered international strife before — including the genocide of a Muslim minority in Myanmar last decade and skirmishes between India and Pakistan — with varying degrees of success. Now the largest conflict on the European continent since World War II has become a litmus test of whether the company has learned to police its platforms during major global crises — and so far, it appears to remain a work in progress.
“All the ingredients of the Russia-Ukraine conflict have been around for a long time: the calls for violence, the disinformation, the propaganda from state media,” said David Kaye, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and a former special rapporteur to the United Nations. “What I find mystifying was that they didn’t have a game plan to deal with it.”
Dani Lever, a Meta spokeswoman, declined to directly address how the company was handling content decisions and employee concerns during the war.
After Russia invaded Ukraine, Meta said it established a round-the-clock special operations team staffed by employees who are native Russian and Ukrainian speakers. It also updated its products to aid civilians in the war, including features that direct Ukrainians toward reliable, verified information to locate housing and refugee assistance.
Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, and Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, have been directly involved in the response to the war, said two people with knowledge of the efforts. But as Mr. Zuckerberg focuses on transforming Meta into a company that will lead the digital worlds of the so-called metaverse, many responsibilities around the conflict have fallen — at least publicly — to Nick Clegg, the president for global affairs.
announced that Meta would restrict access within the European Union to the pages of Russia Today and Sputnik, which are Russian state-controlled media, following requests by Ukraine and other European governments. Russia retaliated by cutting off access to Facebook inside the country, claiming the company discriminated against Russian media, and then blocking Instagram.
This month, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine praised Meta for moving quickly to limit Russian war propaganda on its platforms. Meta also acted rapidly to remove an edited “deepfake” video from its platforms that falsely featured Mr. Zelensky yielding to Russian forces.
a group called the Ukrainian Legion to run ads on its platforms this month to recruit “foreigners” for the Ukrainian army, a violation of international laws. It later removed the ads — which were shown to people in the United States, Ireland, Germany and elsewhere — because the group may have misrepresented ties to the Ukrainian government, according to Meta.
Internally, Meta had also started changing its content policies to deal with the fast-moving nature of posts about the war. The company has long forbidden posts that might incite violence. But on Feb. 26, two days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Meta informed its content moderators — who are typically contractors — that it would allow calls for the death of Mr. Putin and “calls for violence against Russians and Russian soldiers in the context of the Ukraine invasion,” according to the policy changes, which were reviewed by The New York Times.
Reuters reported on Meta’s shifts with a headline that suggested that posts calling for violence against all Russians would be tolerated. In response, Russian authorities labeled Meta’s activities as “extremist.”
Shortly thereafter, Meta reversed course and said it would not let its users call for the deaths of heads of state.
“Circumstances in Ukraine are fast moving,” Mr. Clegg wrote in an internal memo that was reviewed by The Times and first reported by Bloomberg. “We try to think through all the consequences, and we keep our guidance under constant review because the context is always evolving.”
Meta amended other policies. This month, it made a temporary exception to its hate speech guidelines so users could post about the “removal of Russians” and “explicit exclusion against Russians” in 12 Eastern European countries, according to internal documents. But within a week, Meta tweaked the rule to note that it should be applied only to users in Ukraine.
The constant adjustments left moderators who oversee users in Central and Eastern European countries confused, the six people with knowledge of the situation said.
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Putin’s advisers. U.S. intelligence suggests that President Vladimir V. Putin has been misinformed by his advisers about the Russian military’s struggles in Ukraine. The intelligence shows what appears to be growing tension between Mr. Putin and the Ministry of Defense, U.S. officials said.
The policy changes were onerous because moderators were generally given less than 90 seconds to decide on whether images of dead bodies, videos of limbs being blown off, or outright calls to violence violated Meta’s rules, they said. In some instances, they added, moderators were shown posts about the war in Chechen, Kazakh or Kyrgyz, despite not knowing those languages.
Ms. Lever declined to comment on whether Meta had hired content moderators who specialize in those languages.
take action against Russia Today and Sputnik, said two people who attended. Russian state activity was at the center of Facebook’s failure to protect the 2016 U.S. presidential election, they said, and it didn’t make sense that those outlets had continued to operate on Meta’s platforms.
While Meta has no employees in Russia, the company held a separate meeting this month for workers with Russian connections. Those employees said they were concerned that Moscow’s actions against the company would affect them, according to an internal document.
In discussions on Meta’s internal forums, which were viewed by The Times, some Russian employees said they had erased their place of work from their online profiles. Others wondered what would happen if they worked in the company’s offices in places with extradition treaties to Russia and “what kind of risks will be associated with working at Meta not just for us but our families.”
Ms. Lever said Meta’s “hearts go out to all of our employees who are affected by the war in Ukraine, and our teams are working to make sure they and their families have the support they need.”
At a separate company meeting this month, some employees voiced unhappiness with the changes to the speech policies during the war, according to an internal poll. Some asked if the new rules were necessary, calling the changes “a slippery slope” that were “being used as proof that Westerners hate Russians.”
Others asked about the effect on Meta’s business. “Will Russian ban affect our revenue for the quarter? Future quarters?” read one question. “What’s our recovery strategy?”
In the days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, thousands of Twitter accounts shared messages of support for Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president.
They tried to deflect criticism of the war by comparing it to conflicts instigated by Western countries. Their commentary — along with tweets from other users who condemned it — made the hashtag #IStandWithPutin trend on Twitter in several regions around the world.
While some of the accounts said they were based in Nigeria and South Africa, the majority of those with a declared location on Twitter claimed to be from India and targeted their messages to other Indian users, researchers said.
evacuating nearly 20,000 of its citizens who were in the country when Russia’s invasion began. Hundreds of Indian students remained stuck amid heavy shelling at the time. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who has avoided condemning Russia, appealed to Mr. Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, President Volodymyr Zelensky, for help.
Russia’s local embassy used Twitter to instruct Indian media outlets to not use the word “war” but to instead refer to it as a “special military operation,” as media outlets in Russia have been forced by law to do. Some Indian Twitter users responded by mocking the embassy, while others chastised local media outlets as inept and needing instruction from Russia.
Pro-Russian sentiment has taken hold in right-wing circles in the United States, misinformation that has spread within Russia claims Ukrainians have staged bombings or bombed their own neighborhoods, and myths about Ukrainian fortitude have gone viral across social media platforms. But in India and other countries where social media users joined the hashtag, pro-Russian narratives have focused on ethnonationalism and Western hypocrisy over the war, themes that have resonated with social media users.
“There were dense clusters of communities engaging with it, many of which were based in India or based in Pakistan,” said Marc Owen Jones, an assistant professor of Middle East studies and digital humanities at Hamad Bin Khalifa University who analyzed the accounts using #IStandWithPutin.
It was not clear whether the accounts promoting pro-Putin messages in India were authentic, although Dr. Jones said some of the most popular ones engaged in suspicious behavior, like using stock photos as profile pictures or racking up likes and retweets despite having few followers.
blog post this month. “These accounts represent a wide range of attempts to manipulate the service — including opportunistic, financially motivated spam — and we don’t currently believe they represent a specific, coordinated campaign associated with a government actor.”
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Ongoing peace talks. During peace talks between Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul, Russia promised it would “reduce military activity” near Kyiv, and Ukraine said it was ready to declare itself permanently neutral. Even so, weeks of further negotiation may be needed to reach an agreement, and Russia appears determined to capture more territory in eastern Ukraine.
On the ground. Russia’s apparent concessions in the north of Ukraine reflected a successful Ukrainian resistance that has bogged down Russia’s forces around Kyiv’s suburbs and retaken territory near the capital and cities closer to the Russian border.
New sanctions. The United States is preparing new sanctions targeting the supply chains of Russia’s military industrial sector as it seeks to erode Moscow’s ability to attack Ukraine. The new measures will be rolled out in coordination with Western allies.
But some of the accounts in India most likely belonged to real people, Dr. Jones said. “If you can get enough people spreading a message, then real people will join in,” he said. “It becomes hard to sort the organic behavior from the inorganic because it’s a mesh.”
In India, some right-wing groups have advanced similar messages. An organization called the Hindu Sena marched in support of Russia this month in the heart of India’s capital. Carrying Russian flags ordered for the occasion as well as saffron ones often flown by Hindu nationalists, participants were led by the group’s president, Vishnu Gupta.
Over 300 activists chanted, “Russia you fight on, we are with you” and “Long live the friendship of India and Russia.”
“Russia has always stood by India and is its best friend. While America supports Pakistan and does not want any Asian power to rise,” Mr. Gupta said in an interview. “We don’t believe in war. But now that it’s happening, India must go with Russia. We must make our position clear.”
Russia’s embassy in India has also used Twitter and Facebook to promote conspiracy theories about biological research labs in Ukraine and to pressure the Indian media.
largest supplier of weapons, and Ukraine by abstaining from voting against Russia at the United Nations. India has also sent medical supplies to Ukraine. It has been looking for ways to maintain its trade relations with Russia despite sanctions imposed on it by many Western countries.
But public sentiment about the war could pressure local politicians to choose a side, experts said.
“It’s a major, major flashpoint for a truly global competition for information,” Mr. Brookie said. “Its an inflection point where a number of countries — not just Russia but the United States, its allies and partners, as well as China — are positioning themselves.”