Simon Willison’s Weblog


109 items tagged “facebook”


I have a child who is also 2e and has been part of the NYC G&T program. We’ve had a positive experience with the citywide program, specifically with the program at The Anderson School.

Meta AI bot, answering a question on a forum # 18th April 2024, 3:34 am

Threads has entered the fediverse (via) Threads users with public profiles in certain countries can now turn on a setting which makes their posts available in the fediverse—so users of ActivityPub systems such as Mastodon can follow their accounts to subscribe to their posts.

It’s only a partial integration at the moment: Threads users can’t themselves follow accounts from other providers yet, and their notifications will show them likes but not boosts or replies: “For now, people who want to see replies on their posts on other fediverse servers will have to visit those servers directly.”

Depending on how you count, Mastodon has around 9m user accounts of which 1m are active. Threads claims more than 130m active monthly users. The Threads team are developing these features cautiously which is reassuring to see—a clumsy or thoughtless integration could cause all sorts of damage just from the sheer scale of their service. # 22nd March 2024, 8:15 pm

For the last few years, Meta has had a team of attorneys dedicated to policing unauthorized forms of scraping and data collection on Meta platforms. The decision not to further pursue these claims seems as close to waving the white flag as you can get against these kinds of companies. But why? [...]

In short, I think Meta cares more about access to large volumes of data and AI than it does about outsiders scraping their public data now. My hunch is that they know that any success in anti-scraping cases can be thrown back at them in their own attempts to build AI training databases and LLMs. And they care more about the latter than the former.

Kieran McCarthy # 28th February 2024, 3:15 pm

All you need is Wide Events, not “Metrics, Logs and Traces” (via) I’ve heard great things about Meta’s internal observability platform Scuba, here’s an explanation from ex-Meta engineer Ivan Burmistrov describing the value it provides and comparing it to the widely used OpenTelemetry stack. # 27th February 2024, 10:57 pm


Facebook Is Being Overrun With Stolen, AI-Generated Images That People Think Are Real. Excellent investigative piece by Jason Koebler digging into the concerning trend of Facebook engagement farming accounts who take popular aspirational images and use generative AI to recreate hundreds of variants of them, which then gather hundreds of comments from people who have no idea that the images are fake. # 19th December 2023, 2:01 am

Meta/Threads Interoperating in the Fediverse Data Dialogue Meeting yesterday. Johannes Ernst reports from a recent meeting hosted by Meta aimed at bringing together staff from Meta’s Threads social media platform with representatives from the Fediverse.

Meta have previously announced an intention for Threads to join the Fediverse. It sounds like they’re being extremely thoughtful about how to go about this.

Two points that stood out for me:

“Rolling out a large node – like Threads will be – in a complex, distributed system that’s as decentralized and heterogeneous as the Fediverse is not something anybody really has done before.”


“When we think of privacy risks when Meta connects to the Fediverse, we usually think of what happens to data that moves from today’s Fediverse into Meta. I didn’t realize the opposite is also quite a challenge (personal data posted to Threads, making its way into the Fediverse) for an organization as heavily monitored by regulators around the world as is Meta.” # 12th December 2023, 1:05 am

Announcing Purple Llama: Towards open trust and safety in the new world of generative AI (via) New from Meta AI, Purple Llama is “an umbrella project featuring open trust and safety tools and evaluations meant to level the playing field for developers to responsibly deploy generative AI models and experiences”.

There are three components: a 27 page “Responsible Use Guide”, a new open model called Llama Guard and CyberSec Eval, “a set of cybersecurity safety evaluations benchmarks for LLMs”.

Disappointingly, despite this being an initiative around trustworthy LLM development,prompt injection is mentioned exactly once, in the Responsible Use Guide, with an incorrect description describing it as involving “attempts to circumvent content restrictions”!

The Llama Guard model is interesting: it’s a fine-tune of Llama 2 7B designed to help spot “toxic” content in input or output from a model, effectively an openly released alternative to OpenAI’s moderation API endpoint.

The CyberSec Eval benchmarks focus on two concepts: generation of insecure code, and preventing models from assisting attackers from generating new attacks. I don’t think either of those are anywhere near as important as prompt injection mitigation.

My hunch is that the reason prompt injection didn’t get much coverage in this is that, like the rest of us, Meta’s AI research teams have no idea how to fix it yet! # 8th December 2023, 6:36 am

Seamless Communication (via) A new “family of AI research models” from Meta AI for speech and text translation. The live demo is particularly worth trying—you can record a short webcam video of yourself speaking and get back the same video with your speech translated into another language.

The key to it is the new SeamlessM4T v2 model, which supports 101 languages for speech input, 96 Languages for text input/output and 35 languages for speech output. SeamlessM4T-Large v2 is a 9GB file, available on Hugging Face.

Also in this release: SeamlessExpressive, which “captures certain underexplored aspects of prosody such as speech rate and pauses”—effectively maintaining things like expressed enthusiasm across languages.

Plus SeamlessStreaming, “a model that can deliver speech and text translations with around two seconds of latency”. # 1st December 2023, 5:01 pm

[On Meta’s Galactica LLM launch] We did this with a 8 person team which is an order of magnitude fewer people than other LLM teams at the time.

We were overstretched and lost situational awareness at launch by releasing demo of a *base model* without checks. We were aware of what potential criticisms would be, but we lost sight of the obvious in the workload we were under.

One of the considerations for a demo was we wanted to understand the distribution of scientific queries that people would use for LLMs (useful for instruction tuning and RLHF). Obviously this was a free goal we gave to journalists who instead queried it outside its domain. But yes we should have known better.

We had a “good faith” assumption that we’d share the base model, warts and all, with four disclaimers about hallucinations on the demo—so people could see what it could do (openness). Again, obviously this didn’t work.

Ross Taylor # 15th November 2023, 1:15 am

I’m banned for life from advertising on Meta. Because I teach Python. (via) If accurate, this describes a nightmare scenario of automated decision making.

Reuven recently found he had a permanent ban from advertising on Facebook. They won’t tell him exactly why, and have marked this as a final decision that can never be reviewed.

His best theory (impossible for him to confirm) is that it’s because he tried advertising a course on Python and Pandas a few years ago which was blocked because a dumb algorithm thought he was trading exotic animals!

The worst part? An appeal is no longer possible because relevant data is only retained for 180 days and so all of the related evidence has now been deleted.

Various comments on Hacker News from people familiar with these systems confirm that this story likely holds up. # 19th October 2023, 2:56 pm

Meta in Myanmar, Part I: The Setup. The first in a series by Erin Kissane explaining in detail exactly how things went so incredibly wrong with Facebook in Myanmar, contributing to a genocide ending hundreds of thousands of lives. This is an extremely tough read. # 30th September 2023, 2:27 am

MMS Language Coverage in Datasette Lite. I converted the HTML table of 4,021 languages supported by Meta’s new Massively Multilingual Speech models to newline-delimited JSON and loaded it into Datasette Lite. Faceting by Language Family is particularly interesting—the top five families represented are Niger-Congo with 1,019, Austronesian with 609, Sino-Tibetan with 288, Indo-European with 278 and Afro-Asiatic with 222. # 22nd May 2023, 8:01 pm

Introducing speech-to-text, text-to-speech, and more for 1,100+ languages (via) New from Meta AI: Massively Multilingual Speech. “MMS supports speech-to-text and text-to-speech for 1,107 languages and language identification for over 4,000 languages. [...] Some of these, such as the Tatuyo language, have only a few hundred speakers, and for most of these languages, no prior speech technology exists.”

It’s licensed CC-BY-NC 4.0 though, so it’s not available for commercial use.

“In a like-for-like comparison with OpenAI’s Whisper, we found that models trained on the Massively Multilingual Speech data achieve half the word error rate, but Massively Multilingual Speech covers 11 times more languages.”

The training data was mostly sourced from audio Bible translations. # 22nd May 2023, 7:22 pm

ImageBind. New model release from Facebook/Meta AI research: “An approach to learn a joint embedding across six different modalities—images, text, audio, depth, thermal, and IMU (inertial measurement units) data”. The non-interactive demo shows searching audio starting with an image, searching images starting with audio, using text to retrieve images and audio, using image and audio to retrieve images (e.g. a barking sound and a photo of a beach to get dogs on a beach) and using audio as input to an image generator. # 9th May 2023, 7:04 pm

Large language models are having their Stable Diffusion moment

The open release of the Stable Diffusion image generation model back in August 2022 was a key moment. I wrote how Stable Diffusion is a really big deal at the time.

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Running LLaMA 7B on a 64GB M2 MacBook Pro with llama.cpp. I got Facebook’s LLaMA 7B to run on my MacBook Pro using llama.cpp (a “port of Facebook’s LLaMA model in C/C++”) by Georgi Gerganov. It works! I’ve been hoping to run a GPT-3 class language model on my own hardware for ages, and now it’s possible to do exactly that. The model itself ends up being just 4GB after applying Georgi’s script to “quantize the model to 4-bits”. # 11th March 2023, 4:19 am

Introducing LLaMA: A foundational, 65-billion-parameter large language model (via) From the paper: “For instance, LLaMA-13B outperforms GPT-3 on most benchmarks, despite being 10× smaller. We believe that this model will help democratize the access and study of LLMs, since it can be run on a single GPU.” # 24th February 2023, 5:34 pm


Exploring 10m scraped Shutterstock videos used to train Meta’s Make-A-Video text-to-video model

Make-A-Video is a new “state-of-the-art AI system that generates videos from text” from Meta AI. It looks incredible—it really is DALL-E / Stable Diffusion for video. And it appears to have been trained on 10m video preview clips scraped from Shutterstock.

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Every few weeks, someone on Twitter notices how demented the content on Facebook is. I’ve covered a lot of these stories. The quick TL;DR is that Facebook’s video section is essentially run by a network of magicians and Vegas stage performers who hack the platform’s algorithm with surreal low-value content designed to distract users long enough to trigger an in-video advertisement and anger them enough to leave a comment.

Ryan Broderick # 5th February 2022, 10:41 pm


But this much is clear: Facebook knew all along. Their own employees were desperately trying to get anyone inside the company to listen as their products radicalized their own friends and family members. And as they were breaking the world, they had an army of spokespeople publicly and privately gaslighting and intimidating reporters and researchers who were trying to ring the alarm bell. They knew all along and they simply did not give a shit.

Ryan Broderick # 25th October 2021, 8:22 pm

I saw millions compromise their Facebook accounts to fuel fake engagement. Sophie Zhang, ex-Facebook, describes how millions of Facebook users have signed up for “autolikers”—programs that promise likes and engagement for their posts, in exchange for access to their accounts which are then combined into the larger bot farm and used to provide likes to other posts. “Self-compromise was a widespread problem, and possibly the largest single source of existing inauthentic activity on Facebook during my time there. While actual fake accounts can be banned, Facebook is unwilling to disable the accounts of real users who share their accounts with a bot farm.” # 9th June 2021, 3:40 pm


The open secret Jennings filled me in on is that OpenStreetMap (OSM) is now at the center of an unholy alliance of the world’s largest and wealthiest technology companies. The most valuable companies in the world are treating OSM as critical infrastructure for some of the most-used software ever written. The four companies in the inner circle— Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft— have a combined market capitalization of over six trillion dollars.

Joe Morrison # 20th November 2020, 9:11 pm

CG-SQL (via) This is the toolkit the Facebook Messenger team wrote to bring stored procedures to SQLite. It implements a custom version of the T-SQL language which it uses to generate C code that can then be compiled into a SQLite module. # 22nd October 2020, 6:25 pm

Project LightSpeed: Rewriting the Messenger codebase for a faster, smaller, and simpler messaging app (via) Facebook rewrote their iOS messaging app earlier this year, dropping it from 1.7m lines of code to 360,000 and reducing the binary size to a quarter of what it was. A key part of the new app’s architecture is much heavier reliance on SQLite to coordinate data between views, and to dynamically configure how different views are displayed. They even built their own custom system to add stored procedures to SQLite so they could execute portable business logic inside the database. # 22nd October 2020, 6:22 pm

A manager on Strategic Response mused to myself that most of the world outside the West was effectively the Wild West with myself as the part-time dictator – he meant the statement as a compliment, but it illustrated the immense pressures upon me.

Sophie Zhang # 15th September 2020, 9:21 pm

“I Have Blood on My Hands”: A Whistleblower Says Facebook Ignored Global Political Manipulation (via) Sophie Zhang worked as the data scientist for the Facebook Site Integrity fake engagement team. She gave up her severance package in order to speak out internally about what she saw there, and someone leaked her memo to BuzzFeed News. It’s a hell of a story: she saw bots and coordinated manual accounts used to influence politics in countries all around the world, and found herself constantly making moderation decisions that had lasting political impact. “With no oversight whatsoever, I was left in a situation where I was trusted with immense influence in my spare time". This sounds like a nightmare—imagine taking on responsibility for protecting democracy in so many different places. # 15th September 2020, 9:11 pm

Pysa: An open source static analysis tool to detect and prevent security issues in Python code (via) Interesting new static analysis tool for auditing Python for security vulnerabilities—things like SQL injection and os.execute() calls. Built by Facebook and tested extensively on Instagram, a multi-million line Django application. # 7th August 2020, 8:50 pm

Announcing Daylight Map Distribution. Mike Migurski announces a new distribution of OpenStreetMap: a 42GB dump of the version of the data used by Facebook, carefully moderated to minimize the chance of incorrect or maliciously offensive edits. Lots of constructive conversation in the comments about the best way for Facebook to make their moderation decisions more available to the OSM community. # 12th March 2020, 11:44 am


What is a Self-XSS scam? Facebook link to this page from a console.log message that they display the browser devtools console, specifically warning that “If someone told you to copy-paste something here to enable a Facebook feature or hack someone’s account, it is a scam and will give them access to your Facebook account.” # 8th April 2019, 6:01 pm

In January, Facebook distributes a policy update stating that moderators should take into account recent romantic upheaval when evaluating posts that express hatred toward a gender. “I hate all men” has always violated the policy. But “I just broke up with my boyfriend, and I hate all men” no longer does.

Casey Newton # 25th February 2019, 2:09 pm