Facebook launches ‘Hunt for False News’ debunk blog as fakery drops 50%

Facebook hopes detailing concrete examples of fake news it’s caught — or missed — could improve news literacy, or at least prove it’s attacking the misinformation problem. Today Facebook launched “The Hunt for False News,” in which it examines viral B.S., relays the decisions of its third-party fact-checkers and explains how the story was tracked down. The first edition reveals cases where false captions were put on old videos, people were wrongfully identified as perpetrators of crimes or real facts were massively exaggerated.

The blog’s launch comes after three recent studies showed the volume of misinformation on Facebook has dropped by half since the 2016 election, while Twitter’s volume hasn’t declined as drastically. Unfortunately, the remaining 50 percent still threatens elections, civil discourse, dissident safety and political unity across the globe.

In one of The Hunt’s first examples, it debunks that a man who posed for a photo with one of Brazil’s senators had stabbed the presidential candidate. Facebook explains that its machine learning models identified the photo, it was proven false by Brazilian fact-checker Aos Fatos, and Facebook now automatically detects and demotes uploads of the image. In a case where it missed the mark, a false story touting NASA would pay you $100,000 to study you staying in bed for 60 days “racked up millions of views on Facebook” before fact-checkers found NASA had paid out $10,000 to $17,000 in limited instances for studies in the past.

While the educational “Hunt” series is useful, it merely cherry-picks random false news stories from over a wide time period. What’s more urgent, and would be more useful, would be for Facebook to apply this method to currently circulating misinformation about the most important news stories. The New York Times’ Kevin Roose recently began using Facebook’s CrowdTangle tool to highlight the top 10 recent stories by engagement about topics like the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.

If Facebook wanted to be more transparent about its successes and failures around fake news, it’d publish lists of the false stories with the highest circulation each month and then apply the Hunt’s format explaining how they were debunked. This could help dispel myths in society’s understanding that may be propagated by the mere abundance of fake news headlines, even if users don’t click through to read them.

The red line represents the decline of Facebook engagement with “unreliable or dubious” sites

But at least all of Facebook’s efforts around information security — including doubling its security staff from 10,000 to 20,000 workers, fact checks and using News Feed algorithm changes to demote suspicious content — are paying off:

  • A Stanford and NYU study found that Facebook likes, comments, shares and reactions to links to 570 fake news sites dropped by more than half since the 2016 election, while engagements through Twitter continued to rise, “with the ratio of Facebook engagements to Twitter shares falling by approximately 60 percent.”
  • A University of Michigan study coined the metric “Iffy Quotient” to assess the how much content from certain fake news sites was distributed on Facebook and Twitter. When engagement was factored in, it found Facebook’s levels had dropped to nearly 2016 volume; that’s now 50 percent less than Twitter.
  • French newspaper Le Monde looked at engagement with 630 French websites across Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Reddit. Facebook engagement with sites dubbed “unreliable or dubious” has dropped by half since 2015.

Of course, given Twitter’s seeming paralysis on addressing misinformation and trolling, they’re not a great benchmark for Facebook to judge by. While it’s useful that Facebook is outlining ways to spot fake news, the public will have to internalize these strategies for society to make progress. That may be difficult when the truth has become incompatible with many peoples’ and politicians’ staunchly held beliefs.

In the past, Facebook has surfaced fake news-spotting tips atop the News Feed and bought full-page newspaper ads trying to disseminate them. The Hunt for Fake News would surely benefit from being embedded where the social network’s users look everyday instead of buried in its corporate blog.

Take a video tour of Facebook’s election security war room

Beneath an American flag, 20 people packed tight into a beige conference room are Facebook’s, and so too the Internet’s, first line of defence for democracy. This is Facebook election security war room. Screens visualize influxes of foreign political content and voter suppression attempts as high-ranking team members from across divisions at Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp coordinate rapid responses. The hope is through face-to-face real-time collaboration in the war room, Facebook can speed up decision-making to minimize how misinformation influences how vote.

In this video, TechCrunch takes you inside the war room at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters. Bustling with action beneath the glow of the threat dashboards, you see what should have existed two years ago. During the U.S. presidential election, Russian government trolls and profit-driven fake news outlets polluted the social network with polarizing propaganda. Now Facebook hopes to avoid a repeat in the upcoming US midterms as well as elections across the globe. And to win the hearts, minds, and trust of the public, it’s being more transparent about its strategy.

“It’s not something you can scale to solve with just human.s And it’s not something you can solve with just technology either” says Facebook’s head of cybersecurity Nathaniel Gleicher. “I think artificial intelligence is a critical component of a solution and humans are critical component of a solution.” The two approaches combine in the war room.

Who’s In The War Room And How They Fight Back

Engineers – Facebook’s coders develop the dashboards that monitor political content, hate speech, user reports of potential false news, voter suppression content, and more. They build in alarms that warn the team of anomalies and spikes in the data, triggering investigation by…

  • Data Scientists – Once a threat is detected and visualized on the threat boards, these team members dig into who’s behind an attack, and the web of accounts executing the misinformation campaign.
  • Operations Specialists – They determine if and how the attacks violate Facebook’s community standards. If a violation is confirmed, they take down the appropriate accounts and content wherever they appear on the network.
  • Threat Intelligence Researchers and Investigators – These professional cybersecurity professionals have tons of experience in deciphering the sophisticated tactics used by Facebook’s most powerful adversaries including state actors. They also help Facebook run war games and drills to practice defense against last-minute election day attacks.
  • Instagram and WhatsApp Leaders – Facebook’s acquisitions must also be protected, so representatives from those teams join the war room to coordinate monitoring and takedowns across the company’s family of apps. Together with Facebook’s high-ups, they dispense info about election protection to Facebook’s 20,000 security staffers.
  • Local Experts – Facebook now starts working to defend an election 1.5 to 2 years ahead of time. To provide maximum context for decisions, local experts from countries with the next elections join to bring knowledge of cultural norms and idiosyncracies.
  • Policy Makers – To keep Facebook’s rules about what’s allowed up to date to bar the latest election interference tactics, legal and policy team members join to turn responses into process.

Beyond fellow Facebook employees, the team works external government, security, and tech industry partners. Facebook routinely cooperates with other social networks to pass each other information and synchronize take-downs. Facebook has to get used to this. Following the mid-terms it will evaluate whether it needs to constantly operate a war room. But after it was caught be surprise in 2016, Facebook accepts that it can never turn a blind eye again.

Facebook’s director of our global politics and government outreach team Katie Harbath concludes. “This is our new normal.”

Sidestepping App Stores, Facebook Lite and Groups get Instant Games

HTML5 almost ruined Facebook when baking in the mobile web standard to speed up development slowed down the performance of the social network’s main iOS and Android apps. For a brief moment in 2011, Facebook even tried to build an HTML5 gaming platform codenamed Sparta to escape the taxes of Apple and Google’s mobile operating systems. But at the time, HTML5 wasn’t powerful enough for great gaming. Facebook eventually ditched HTML5, rebuilt the apps natively, and Facebook became one of the most powerful players in mobile.

Now Facebook is giving HTML5 another shot as a way to expand its Instant Games like Pac-Man and Words With Friends to the developing world through Facebook Lite, and to interest communities via Facebook Groups. With improvements to smartphone processing power and the underlying mobile browser app technology, HTML5 can now support snappy, graphically-complex games like Everwing seen below.

Instead of having to download separate apps for each game from the Apple App Store or Google Play, Instant Games launch in a mobile browser. That keeps Facebook Lite’s file size small to the benefit of international users with slow connections or limited data plans. And it lets Instant Games integrate directly into Groups so you can challenge not only friends but like-minded members to compete for high scores.

90 million people each month actively participate in 270,000 Facebook Groups about gaming, and now they’ll see Instant Games in the Groups navigation bar next to the About and Discussion tabs. Facebook is also considering making games an opt-in feature for non-gaming Groups. In Facebook Lite, Instant Games will appear in the More sidebar so they’re not too interruptive.

The expansion demonstrates how serious Facebook is about becoming a gaming company again. Back in its desktop days, the games platform dominated by developers like Zynga racked up tons of usage, virality, and in-game payments revenue for Facebook. That revenue declined for years after mobile usage began to dominate in 2014, but recently stabilized at around $190 million per quarter. Apparently someone is still playing FarmVille.

Facebook launched Instant Games in late-2016 to give people something to do while they’re waiting from friends to reply to their messages. Around the same time, Facebook launched Gameroom — a Steam-like desktop software hub for mid-core gamers, though there’s been less news on that product since. Instant Games rolled out worldwide in mid-2017, and opened to all developers in March of this year. It’s since been expanding monetization options for developers to make building Instant Games a sustainable business. That includes making Instant Games compatible with Facebook’s playable ads that let developers lure in users from the News Feed.

Facebook won’t actually be earning money from in-app purchases on Instant Games on iOS where it doesn’t allow IAP due to Apple’s policies, or on Android since it began forgoing its cut last month. It does take 30 percent on desktop though. But the bigger monetization play is in ads where Facebook is a juggernaut.

With Instant Games on Messenger, Facebook’s desktop site and main mobile app via bookmarks, its new Fb.gg standalone gaming community app, and now Facebook Lite and Groups, the company is prioritizing the space again. That seems wise as gaming becomes more mainstream thanks to players livestreaming their commentary and phenomena like Fortnite. And with Facebook’s expansion into hardware with the Portal smart screen and a forthcoming TV set-top box, it will have more places than ever for people to play or watch others duke it out.

Facebook is building a camera TV set-top box codenamed Ripley

A mysterious product called “Ripley” appeared hidden besides Facebook’s new Portal smart displays in Facebook for Android’s code. Dug up by frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong a week ago, Ripley’s name squared with Facebook’s VP of Portal Rafa Camargo telling us that “we’re already investing in expanding the product line with more products we want to launch next year.”

That Facebook device will be a camera-equipped device that connects to televisions to allow video chat and media content viewing, according to Cheddar’s Alex Heath.

Facebook’s Portal’s devices sit on a desk or countertop and cost $199 for a smaller screen and $349 for a bigger one. But with Ripley, Facebook could sell a much cheaper screen-less add-on for the televisions people already have. Facebook could build hardware network effect by releasing its Portal technology in many form factors.

The Ripley name could change before the eventual launch next year that Cheddar says is coming in Spring 2019. It might become something more evocative of the device’s purpose. But regardless of the name, it’s sure to encounter heavy skepticism due to Facebook’s history of privacy and security troubles. Many users don’t trust Facebook enough to put one of its cameras and microphones in its house.

Ripley is said to run on the same Portal operating system that builds off the same Android open source framework. That means it might carry a similar slate of features. Those include Portal’s auto-zooming camera that can follow users to keep them in frame, video chat through Messenger, a smart photo frame for while it’s not in use, Facebook Watch videos, Alexa voice control, and a third-party app platform including video content from outside developers.

While users might occasionally watch recipe or news videos on Portal, entertainment could be core to Ripley. The device would allow Facebook to compete with Roku, Amazon, Apple, and other set-top boxes. The device could also eventually be a natural home for Facebook’s video ads, even though it’s not putting them on Portal right now.

Along with smart speakers, whoever creates what plugs into our TVs will control a fundamental wing of future home computing. Facebook won’t surrender this market, despite its disadvantage due to its many scandals.

Facebook prototypes Unsend 6 months after Zuckerberg retracted messages

In April, TechCrunch broke the news that some of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook messages were deleted from recipients’ inboxes in what some saw as a violation of user trust and abuse of power since Facebook Messenger doesn’t have an Unsend button. The next morning, Facebook suddenly announced that it would actually build this Unsend functionality for everyone. But six months went by without a peep about the feature, furthering suspicions that the announcement that it would release an Unsend button was merely a PR driven response to the scandal, even if Facebook was just taking time to figure out the right way to build it.

Late last week, TechCrunch asked Facebook about its progress on Unsend ahead of the six month mark, and the company told us “Though we have nothing to announce today, we have previously confirmed that we intend to ship a feature like this and are still planning to do so.”

Now we have our first look at the feature thanks to TechCrunch’s favorite tipster Jane Manchun Wong. She’s managed to generate screenshots of a prototype Unsend button from Facebook Messenger’s Android code. Other Facebook prototypes discovered by Wong like the Your Activity screentime dashboard, Instagram’s video calling and music stickers, and more features have gone on to receive official launches.

Currently, you can only delete messages from your own inbox — they still remain in the recipients’ inbox. But with this Unsend feature prototype, you’re able to remove a message from both sides of a conversation. However, the code indicates that in the current prototype there’s a “time limit”. That may mean users would only have a certain amount of time after they send a message to unsend it. That would essentially be an editing window in which users could take back what they said.

In response, a spokesperson confirmed that “Facebook internally tests products and features before they ship to the public so we can ensure the quality of the experience.”

The Unsend feature could be useful to people who say something stupid or inappropriate, disclose a secret they shouldn’t have, or want to erase evidence of their misdeeds. That could make users more comfortable speaking freely on the app, since they know they can retract their texts. Snapchat’s messages self-destruct unless purposefully saved to the thread by a user, permitting more off-the-cuff chatting.

But Unsend could also open vectors for abuse, as users could harass people over Messenger and then delete the evidence. Facebook will need to ensure that Unsend doesn’t accidentally become a weapon for bullies. That might mean allowing users to turn off the ability for their conversation partners to Unsend messages on a thread by thread basis, and/or a report button specifically for flagging messages that have since been retracted.

Facebook’s acquisition Instagram already lets users Unsend messages and Snapchat added an Unsend option in June. But those chat products are more designed for having fun, discussing memes, and sharing photos with close friends. Messenger has positioned itself as a core communications utility for the world. Messing with the permanence of messages could make it feel less reliable or truthful to some users. When we talk in person, our conversations aren’t written in stone forever…but there’s also no way to force someone to forget what you said.

[Postscript: Ideally, Facebook builds this similarly to Gmail’s Undo Send option, where you can only use it for a very short period of time after a message is sent, but still actually deliver messages in real time. The real confusion and trouble would come with being able to unsend messages well after they’ve been sent and even read.]

Facebook breach saw 15M users’ names & contact info accessed, 14M’s bios too

Facebook has now detailed what was potentially stolen in the breach it revealed two weeks ago. 30 million users, not 50 million as it initially estimated, had their access tokens stolen by hackers. Users can check Facebook’s Help Center to find out if their information was accessed, and Facebook will send customized alerts to those impacted detailing what was accessed from their account and what they can do to recover. It’s currently not clear if all the information accessed was necessarily scraped.

15 million of the 30 million users had their name plus phone number and/or email accessed. 14 million had that info plus potentially more biographical info accessed, including “username, gender, locale/language, relationship status, religion, hometown, self-reported current city, birthdate, device types used to access Facebook, education, work, the last 10 places they checked into or were tagged in, website, people or Pages they follow, and the 15 most recent searches”. The remaining 1 million users’ information wasn’t accessed.

Facebook’s other apps including Messenger, Messenger Kids, Instagram, WhatsApp, Workplace, and Pages, as well as its features for payments, third-party apps, advertisers, and developers were not accessed.

Unlike most breaches, this one appears to have turned out to be less severe then initially expected. Users seem to already be forgetting about the breach after a short hiccup where they had to log back in to Facebook. It’s possible that that could impact Facebook’s user counts slightly in its Q3 earnings report. But unless a truly nefarious use case for the accessed data is revealed, the breach could fade into the noise of non-stop cybersecurity failures across the web, including Google+’s breach that was covered up and has now prompted the Facebook competitor’s shut down.

Facebook mistakenly deleted some people’s Live videos

This time instead of exposing users’ data, a Facebook bug erased it. A previously undisclosed Facebook glitch caused it to delete some users’ Live videos if they tried to post them to their Story and the News Feed after finishing their broadcast. Facebook wouldn’t say how many users or livestreams were impacted, but told the bug was intermittent and affected a minority of all Live videos. It’s since patched the bug and restored some of the videos, but is notifying some users with an apology that their Live videos have been deleted permanently.

The bug raises the question of whether Facebook is a reliable place to share and store our memories and important moments. In March, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told congress regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal that “We have a responsibility to protect your data – and if we can’t, then we don’t deserve to serve you.” Between that misappropriation of user biographical data, the recent breach that let hackers steal the access tokens that would let them take over 50 million Facebook accounts, wrongful changes to users’ default sharing privacy settings, and now this, some users may conclude Facebook in fact no longer deserves to serve them.

Facebook user Tommy Gabriel Sparandera provided TechCrunch with this screenshot showing the apology note from Facebook on his profile. It reads “Information About Your Live Videos: Due to a technical issue, one or more of your live videos may have been deleted from your timeline and couldn’t be restored. We understand how important your live videos can be and apologize that this happened.”

When TechCrunch asked Facebook about the issue, it confirmed the problem and provided this statement: ““We recently discovered a technical issue that removed live videos from some people’s Facebook Timelines. We have resolved this issue and restored many of these videos to people’s Timelines. People whose videos we were unable to restore will get a notification on Facebook. We know saving memories on Facebook is important to people, and we apologize for this error.”

Facebook made a huge push to own the concept of “going Live” in 2016 with TV commercials, billboards and more designed to overshadow competitors like Twitter’s Periscope. It eventually succeeded, with Periscope’s popularity fading while one in five Facebook videos became Live broadcasts. But in its blitz to win this market, it didn’t build adequate safety and moderation tools. That led to suicides and violence being livestreamed to audiences before Facebook’s content police could take down the videos.

Nowadays, most users don’t go live frequently unless they’re some kind of influencer, public figure, or journalist. When they do see something important transpiring, Facebook has positioned itself as the way to broadcast it. But if users can’t be sure Facebook will properly save those videos, it could persuade them it’s not worth becoming a camera man instead of a participant in life’s most interesting moments.

SoundCloud finally lets more musicians monetize four years later

SoundCloud moves painfully slow for a tech company, and no one feels that pain more than musicians who are popular on the site but don’t get paid. 10 years since SoundCloud first launched, and four years since it opened an invite-only program allowing just the very biggest artists to earn a cut of the ad and premium subscription revenue generated by their listeners, SoundCloud is rolling out monetization.

Now, musicians 18 and up who pay SoundCloud $8 to $16 per month for hosting, get over 5000 streams per month, and only publish original music with no copyright strikes against them can join the SoundCloud Premier program. They’ll get paid a revenue share directly each month that SoundCloud claims “meets or beats any other streaming service”. However, the company failed to respond to TechCrunch’s inquiries about how much artists would earn per 1000 ad-supported or premium subscription listener streams, or how many streams would earn them a dollar.

Beyond payouts, Premier members can post new tracks instantly without having to wait to be discoverable or monetizable, they’ll get real-time feedback from fans, and extra discovery opportunities from SoundCloud. The company hopes monetization will lure more creators to join the 20 million on the platform, get them to promote their presence to drive listens, and imbue the site with exclusive artist-uploaded content that attracts listeners.

It’s been a year since SoundCloud raised an $170 million emergency funding round to save itself from going under after it was forced to lay off 40 percent of its staff. That deal arranged by Kerry Trainor saw him become CEO and the previous co-founder and CEO Alex Ljung step aside. With underground rap that had percolated on SoundCloud for years suddenly reaching the mainstream, the startup seemed to have momentum.

The problem is the slow speed of progress at SoundCloud has allowed competitors with monetization baked in to catch up to its formerly unique offering. YouTube Music’s launch in June 2018 combined premium major label catalogues with user uploaded tracks in a cohesive streaming service. And last month, Spotify began allowing indie artists to upload their music directly to the platform. Meanwhile, licensing distribution services like Dubset are making it legal for big streaming apps to host remixes and DJ sets. Together, these make more of the rarities, live versions, and hour-long club gigs that used to only be on SoundCloud available elsewhere.

The delays seem in part related to the fact that SoundCloud wants to be Spotify as well as SoundCloud. It’s refused to back down from its late entry into the premium streaming market with its $9.99 per month SoundCloud Go+ subscription. As I previously recommended, “to fix SoundCloud, it must become the anti-Spotify” by ruthlessly focusing on its differentiated offering in artist-uploaded music. Instead, another year has passed with only a light revamping of SoundCloud’s homescreen and some more personalized playlists to show for it.

SoundCloud proudly announced it had reached $100 million in revenue in 2017, and exceeded its financial and user growth targets. But filings reveal it lost over $90 million in 2016 and it was previously projected to not become profitable until 2020. That begs the question of whether SoundCloud will have to raise again, or might once again open itself to acquisitions. With Apple, Google, Amazon, and Spotify all in fierce competition for the future of streaming, any of them might be willing to pay up for music that fans can’t easily find elsewhere.

Facebook poaches leaders of Refdash interview prep to work on Jobs

Facebook just snatched some talent to fuel its invasion of LinkedIn’s turf. A source tells TechCrunch that members of coding interview practice startup Refdash including at least some of its executives have been hired by Facebook. The social network confirmed to TechCrunch that members of Refdash’s leadership team are joining to work on Facebook’s Jobs feature that lets business promote employment openings that users can instantly apply for.

Facebook’s big opportunity here is that it’s a place people already browse naturally, so they can be exposed to Job listings even when they’re not actively looking for a company or career change. Since launching the feature in early 2017, Facebook has focused on blue-collar jobs like service and retail industry jobs that constantly need filling. But the Refdash team could give it more experience in recruiting for technical roles, connecting high-skilled workers like computer programmers to positions that need filling. These hirers might be willing to pay high prices to advertise their job listings on Facebook, siphoning revenue away from LinkedIn.

Facebook confirms that this is not an acquisition or technically a full acquihire, as there’s no overarching deal to buy assets or talent as a package. It’s so far unclear what exactly will happen to Refdash now that its team members are starting at Facebook this week, though it’s possible it will shut down now that its leaders have left for the tech giant’s cushy campuses and premium perks. Refdash’s website now says that “We’ve temporarily suspended interviews in order to make product changes that we believe will make your job search experience significantly better.”

Founded in 2016 in Mountain View with an undisclosed amount of funding from Founder Friendly Labs, Refdash gave programmers direct qualitative and scored feedback on their coding interviews. Users would do a mock interview, get graded, and then have their performance anonymously shared with potential employers to match them with the right companies and positions for their skills. This saved engineers from having to endure grueling interrogations with tons of different hirers. Refdash claimed to place users at startups like Coinbase, Cruise, Lyft, and Mixpanel.

A source tells us that Refdash focused on understanding people’s deep professional expertise and sending them to the perfect employer without having to judge by superficial resumes that can introduce bias to the process. It also touted allowing hirers to browse candidates without knowing their biographical details, which could also cut down on discrimination and helps ensure privacy in the job hunting process (especially if people are still working elsewhere and are trying to be discreet in their job hunt).

It’s easy to imagine Facebook building its own coding challenge and puzzles that programmers could take to then get paired with appropriate hirers through its Jobs product. Perhaps Facebook could even build a similar service to Refdash, though the one-on-one feedback sessions it’d conduct might not be scalable enough for Menlo Park’s liking. If Facebook can make it easier to not only apply for jobs but interview for them too, it could lure talent and advertisers away from LinkedIn to a product that’s already part of people’s daily lives.

The co-founders of Refdash have something of a track record in building companies that get acquihired to help add new features to existing services. Nicola Otasevic and Andrew Kearney were respectively the founder and tech lead for Room 77, which was picked up by Google in 2014 to help rebuild its travel search vertical. At the time it was described as a licensing deal although Refdash’s founders these days call it an acquisition.

Building tools to improve the basic process of hiring via remote testing could help Facebook get an edge on technical recruiting, but it’s not the only one building such features. LinkedIn’s stablemate Skype (like LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft) last year unveiled Interviews to let recruiters test developers and others applying for technical jobs with a real-time code editor. LinkedIn has not (yet?) incorporated it into its platform.

Facebook Messenger internally tests voice commands for chat, calls

Facebook Messenger could soon let you use your voice to dictate and send messages, initiate voice calls and create reminders. Messenger for Android’s code reveals a new M assistant button atop the message thread screen that activates listening for voice commands for those functionalities. Voice control could make Messenger simpler to use hands-free or while driving, more accessible for the vision or dexterity-impaired and, perhaps one day, easier for international users whose native languages are hard to type.

Facebook Messenger was previously spotted testing speech transcription as part of the Aloha voice assistant believed to be part of Facebook’s upcoming Portal video chat screen device. But voice commands in the M assistant are new, and demonstrate an evolution in Facebook’s strategy since its former head of Messenger David Marcus told me voice “is not something we’re actively working on right now” in September 2016 onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt.

The prototype was discovered by all-star TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong, who’d previously discovered prototypes of Instagram Video Calling, Facebook’s screen time digital well-being dashboard and Lyft’s scooter rentals before they officially launched. When reached for comment, a Facebook Messenger spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that Facebook is internally testing the voice command feature. They told TechCrunch, “We often experiment with new experiences on Messenger with employees. We have nothing more to share at this time.”

Messenger is eager to differentiate itself from SMS, Snapchat, Android Messages and other texting platforms. The app has aggressively adopted visual communication features like Facebook Stories, augmented reality filters and more. Wong today spotted Messenger prototyping augmented reality camera effects being rolled into the GIFs, Stickers and Emoji menu in the message composer. Facebook confirms this is now in testing with a small percentage of Messenger users.

Facebook has found that users aren’t so keen on tons of bells and whistles like prominent camera access or games getting in the way of chat, so Facebook plans to bury those more in a forthcoming simplified redesign of Messenger. But voice controls add pure utility without obstructing Messenger’s core value proposition and could end up getting users to chat more if they’re eventually rolled out.