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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

We now have a closer look at Facebook researchers' "WW" project, a parallel-world version of the social network populated entirely by bots, via The Verge's James Vincent.

Why it matters: The simulation of the entirety of the social network is designed to help the company anticipate and forestall new forms of online mischief and scams using a copy of Facebook's actual codebase.

  • The simulation app is "headless" — that is, there's no front-end user interface, no pages to read, just data interacting with other data to produce more data.
  • Facebook's goal is to run experiments to learn how to discourage bad behavior in the "real" Facebook — like city planners simulating traffic flow so they can know where best to place speed bumps.
  • The researchers say they haven't yet produced findings that have been used to improve the "real" Facebook's defenses, but they expect that to happen by the end of the year.

The big picture: Simulation is one of the most fundamental and oldest tricks a computer system can perform.

  • Facebook itself is a single world-sized system that users interact with.
  • Now the company has a second version of the system to help it find new ways to get users in the first one to do what it wants them to do.

Our thought bubble: You could look at this as an ingenious and well-intentioned effort on the part of Facebook's engineers to deter bad behavior on the scale of the world's largest digital platform.

  • But you could also conclude that Facebook is a colossal Skinner box, and we are 2.6 billion rats.

Go deeper

Oct 29, 2020 - Technology

Facebook beats on earnings

Photo: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

In earnings for the 2020 third quarter released Thursday, Facebook reported modest user growth but revenue increases that beat Wall Street expectations.

Why it matters: Facebook's business looks resilient and thriving despite — or maybe because of — the pandemic.

Ina Fried, author of Login
Oct 30, 2020 - Technology

Study: Facebook and dating apps grab the most personal user data

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A new study says Facebook and dating apps collect the most personal information about users, though a wide range of apps are collecting more data than one would expect.

Why it matters: It's not always intuitive which apps are grabbing data. And even when a site or app doesn't explicitly collect a piece of information, it can still infer that information from other data it does collect.

Ina Fried, author of Login
Oct 30, 2020 - Economy & Business

The pandemic isn't slowing tech

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Thursday's deluge of Big Tech earnings reports showed one thing pretty clearly: COVID-19 may be bad in all sorts of ways, but it's not slowing down the largest tech companies. If anything, it's helping some companies, like Amazon and Apple.

Yes, but: With the pandemic once again worsening in the U.S. and Europe, it's not clear how long the tech industry's winning streak can last.