Facebook just took down a Trump post that claimed kids are immune to COVID-19

Facebook took down a video President Trump posted to his account Wednesday, citing its rules against false claims about the coronavirus. The decision to remove the video signals a new direction for Facebook, which has been taking incremental steps recently to distance itself from the perception that the company deliberately turns a blind eye to the president’s potentially harmful behavior.

The video in question was a clip from a Fox News segment from Wednesday morning in which the president makes the unsubstantiated claim that children are “almost immune” to COVID-19. While much remains unknown about the novel coronavirus, children can contract COVID-19 and are believed to be able to spread it to others, even without symptoms.

“This video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19 which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation,” Facebook’s Liz Bourgeois said in a statement provided to TechCrunch.

Twitter also removed a link to the same video clip, which the official Trump Twitter account @TeamTrump shared earlier on Wednesday. Links to the tweet now point Twitter users to a message that the tweet violated Twitter’s rules and is no longer available.

TikTok updates policies to ban deepfakes, expand fact-checks, and flag election misinfo

As uncertainty swirls around TikTok’s future in the U.S., the company this morning announced new Community Guidelines focused on helping keep misleading and deceptive content off its platform. The new rules aim to better clarify what’s allowed and not allowed on TikTok, broaden the app’s fact-checking partnerships ahead of the U.S. election, and ban the use of “deepfakes” (manipulated content) designed to deceive. In addition, TikTok has added an in-app reporting option for election misinformation. It also claims to have worked with experts, including the Countering Foreign Influence Task Force (CFITF), run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to help counter the threat of foreign influence on elections.

That latter item is a particularly clever spin on TikTok’s current situation, given that it’s the foreign interference of TikTok itself that the Trump Administration is concerned about, along with the potential security risk that comes from the possibility of China’s authoritarian government collecting massive amounts of data on TikTok’s American users.

TikTok, however, says it has worked with CFITF and other experts to help stop the dangers of foreign influence on U.S. elections. The task force shares insight about possible disinformation campaigns across the industry and connects local election officials with online platforms and law enforcement. TikTok didn’t clarify the extent of its work in this area, but CFITF has only existed since 2018 so these would be fairly recent efforts.

The company also says it’s expanding its relationships with PolitiFact and Lead Stories to fact check potential misinformation related to the 2020 U.S. election. The organizations were previously focused on other fact-checks, like those related to COVID-19 and climate change.

However, fact-check organizations’ ability to actually find and fact-check misleading content can be difficult as much of this content is framed by users as “just my opinion.” A quick search on TikTok this morning for “climate change hoax,” for example, pulled up videos with dissenting user opinions on the topic with no fact-check applied. This isn’t a problem unique to TikTok, of course. Social media platforms in general struggle the line between free speech and misinformation, especially when content goes viral that shares a viewpoint not held by a majority of the scientific or academic community.

TikTok also says today it will roll out an election misinformation option to its in-app reporting feature in the “coming weeks.” But it didn’t offer a clear launch date, despite elections now being months away.

The company says it’s clarifying its policy to ban the use of “synthetic or manipulated content,” too. This will now include deepfakes meant to deceive or distort the truth. The policy continues to be questionably enforced. For example, TikTok easily pulled up the recent viral video that claims to show House Speaker Nancy Pelosi drunk — a video that has been manipulated from the original where she speaks normally. There is no fact-check applied. Facebook, by comparison, labeled the video “partly false,” given the digital slowing down of the original video.

None of these problems around fake content or attempts to deceive are unique to TikTok, of course. U.S. companies don’t have things under control, either.

TikTok, in addition, notes it releases Transparency Reports and recently added new Transparency webpage with information for lawmakers and users alike.

Its policy around “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” has also been restated to be clearer, TikTok says.

The new policy reads:

Do not engage in coordinated inauthentic activities (such as the creation of accounts) to exert influence and sway public opinion while misleading individuals, our community or the larger public about the account’s identity, location or purpose

The Trump administration has put the TikTok ban on hold for at least 45 days for now, ostensibly so TikTok could work out a deal with Microsoft. The U.S. government wants the company to spin out its U.S. operations to distance itself from China.

TikTok users, naturally, have their own theories about why Trump is coming down so hard on their prefered social app. Some number of TikTok teens pranked the Trump campaign over the rally in Tulsa, for starters. Other TikTok users pointed out that Trump’s real concern is that TikTok doesn’t allow political ads — and microtargeting voters on Facebook helped Trump win the last election.

These theories are interesting to debate (may not be entirely wrong!), but the reality is that the concerns over TikTok’s connection to China have some bipartisan support.

Instagram Reels launches globally in over 50 countries, including US

Instagram Reels, the company’s significant effort in challenging TikTok on short-form creative content, is launching globally, starting today. The feature is being made available across 50 countries, including the U.S., as TechCrunch had previously reported. The expansion means Reels will now be available in key international markets, such as India, Brazil, France, Germany, the U.K., Japan, Australia, Spain, Mexico, Argentina and several others.

The timing is fortuitous, given TikTok’s uncertain future in the U.S. as the Trump administration weighs either banning the Chinese-owned app entirely or forcing it to sell off its U.S. operations.

However, Facebook’s plans to respond to the TikTok threat were underway well before now.

In late 2018, Facebook launched a TikTok clone called Lasso. The app didn’t take off and was shuttered this year. Though unsuccessful as a standalone product, Lasso represents Facebook’s ability to run what are essentially large-scale beta tests that don’t have to generate revenue. This allows Facebook to collect a sizable amount of user behavioral data that can then be put to use when building new features for flagship apps, like it’s doing with Instagram Reels.

Following Lasso’s tests, Instagram released Reels in Brazil in November 2019, where it was called Cenas, to see how Instagram users would respond to a different sort of mobile video experience.

Those tests steadily expanded outside the U.S. to markets like India and parts of Europe in 2020.

With Reels, Instagram’s goal is not just to capture the now potentially up-for-grabs TikTok audience in the U.S. — it’s to steal them away even if TikTok remains.

Image Credits: Instagram

Today, Instagram caters to a certain kind of creator community that doesn’t always overlap with the younger, Gen Z (and up) user base that’s found a home on TikTok. (And Gen Alpha, if we’re being honest.) Instead, Instagram users either share polished, curated photos to their Feed; publish personal and casual videos in Stories; or share almost YouTube-like creator content to IGTV. Meanwhile, Instagram’s browsing experience hasn’t offered a way to quickly swipe through videos like on TikTok.

Image Credits: Instagram

Reels aims to change that. The feature lets users create and publish 15-second videos using a new set of editing tools that include options like AR effects, a countdown timer, a new align tool to line up different takes and, of course, music. Instagram’s deals with major record labels mean users won’t have to wonder if their sound will later be removed due to a rights issue and will offer a variety of musical content right out of the gate.

A comprehensive audio catalog could be a competitive advantage for Reels — not to mention a feature that’s difficult for smaller apps to acquire due to the complicated nature of record label negotiations.

When TikTok users recently descended on rival apps upon news of a potential TikTok ban in the U.S., one of their chief complaints was the lack of good music or popular sounds. Some even republished their favorites under hashtags like #sounds or #TikToksounds in an effort to rebuild TikTok’s catalog via user-generated uploads.

Instagram understood the importance of music — not just editing tools, workflow and discovery — in helping its TikTok competitor thrive. TikTok, after all, has its own record label contracts — though the extent of those deals haven’t been widely published.

“We think it’s really important to honor the rights of the music labels — and that’s one we’ve been working on for years now,” said Instagram head of Product, Vishal Shah. “We’re launching Reels now in countries where we have rights. We think that the catalog is quite deep and it has some unique content that you can’t really find, at that depth, in other platforms. At the same time, we wanted to make sure that all the restrictions that we needed to put in place — whether that was on the country basis or what could people download and use and remix etc. — were all built into the product from from day one. That’s something we’ve been working with the labels on and was an important consideration in the launch,” he added.

What he didn’t mention is that Instagram’s music industry relationships aren’t only with the record labels. The company has deals with other publishers and independents as well, which have been part of the company’s ongoing partnership efforts and strategic negotiations that are helping fuel other Facebook products, like the recent launch of Music Videos. 

Image Credits: Instagram

Using Reels is easy because it’s built into the Instagram Camera that people already know how to use. To create a new Reel, you’ll select the option at the bottom of the Instagram Camera, next to Story. The editing tools then pop up on the left side of the screen, which is where you’ll find the AR effects and other options, like the timer, speed and align features.

Like other Instagram posts, Reels can be saved to Drafts while they’re a work in progress. When ready to go live, Reels can be pushed out across key surfaces in the app — including Stories, Stories with Close Friends only or as a DM. If you have a public Instagram account, you also can publish Reels to the wider Instagram audience, which will discover them within a new space in Explore.

Image Credits: Instagram

Reels can also be captioned and hashtagged, and friends can be tagged — allowing Instagram to leverage the size and scale of its user base to help the new feature go viral. If Reels are published to Stories, they’ll disappear in 24 hours. Otherwise, Reels will continue to live on in a new tab on users’ profiles.

To watch Reels from Explore, users are presented in a vertical feed personalized to your interests, similar to TikTok. “Featured” Reels are those chosen by Instagram to guide users to original content and will be labeled accordingly.

Overall, what Instagram has built isn’t all that differentiated from TikTok. But nor is it a direct clone.

Instead, Instagram has turned the entirety of the TikTok experience into a single feature among many others within its own app. That’s been a formula for success in the past — Instagram Stories is now bigger than all of Snapchat, for instance.

But TikTok has built something that may not be as easily replicated: a community of users who started their social media lives with underage accounts on Musical.ly. They grew up with the app, lived through the TikTok rebranding and now may see no need to switch — unless TikTok actually does disappear.

Or, as my tween put it when a friend told her TikTok wasn’t really going to be banned: “So Instagram built Reels for nothing?”

Decrypted: How a teenager hacked Twitter, Garmin’s ransomware aftermath

A 17-year-old Florida teenager is accused of perpetrating one of the year’s biggest and most high-profile hacks: Twitter.

A federal 30-count indictment filed in Tampa said Graham Ivan Clark used a phone spearphishing attack to pivot through multiple layers of Twitter’s security and bypassed its two-factor authentication to gain access to an internal “admin” tool that let the hacker take over any account. With two accomplices named in a separate federal indictment, Clark — who went by the online handle “Kirk” — allegedly used the tool to hijack the accounts of dozens of celebrities and public figures, including Bill Gates, Elon Musk and former president Barack Obama, to post a cryptocurrency scam netting over $100,000 in bitcoin in just a few hours.

It was, by all accounts, a sophisticated attack that required technical skills and an ability to trick and deceive to pull off the scam. Some security professionals were impressed, comparing the attack to one that had the finesse and professionalism of a well-resourced nation-state attacker.

But a profile in The New York Times describes Clark was an “adept scammer with an explosive temper.”

In the teenager’s defense, the attack could have been much worse. Instead of pushing a scam that promised to “double your money,” Clark and his compatriots could have wreaked havoc. In 2013, hackers hijacked the Associated Press’ Twitter account and tweeted a fake bomb attack on the White House, sending the markets plummeting — only to quickly recover after the all-clear was given.

But with control of some of the world’s most popular Twitter accounts, Clark was for a few hours in July one of the most powerful people in the world. If found guilty, the teenager could spend his better years behind bars.

Here’s more from the past week.


THE BIG PICTURE

Garmin hobbles back after ransomware attack, but questions remain

Messenger launches a new chat plugin for business websites to reach non-Facebook customers

Facebook is making it easier for businesses to leverage its Messenger service on their own websites. The company in November 2017 first launched a new customer chat plugin which allowed customers to talk directly with a business on the business’s own website using the Messenger service. However, that plugin had required the website visitors to be logged into Facebook, limiting adoption. Today, that’s changing, Facebook says.

The prior version of the plugin may have worked for smaller businesses who couldn’t afford a more robust live chat service, but it also limited customers’ ability to interact. Customers who didn’t use Facebook, couldn’t remember their password, or who were visiting the website from a different device than their own, for example, wouldn’t have been able to chat with the business.

Other customers may have simply wanted to submit their queries more anonymously — perhaps worried that the business would continue to bother them later in their Messenger app, even if they weren’t ready for such a direct relationship.

The updated plugin will now allow customers to talk to businesses without being logged in, Facebook says. Instead, a “continue as guest” option will be available. However, on the business’s side, they’ll still be able to use all their same tools to manage their conversations with these online users, whether logged in or not.

Facebook hints that its requirement around being logged in may have limited adoption of the product. Developers who built websites for clients, for instance, claimed the plugin wasn’t always an easy sell, as it required the business to offer some sort of alternative for the non-logged in users.

“As a developer, it’s much easier to convince a business to use a live chat offering that is available to all their customers,” noted Soma Toth, founder of Recart. “Our business customers are seeing sales directly tied to engagement on Messenger, and the Chat Plugin helps them leverage the same investment across both their Facebook page and their website at no additional cost. It also reduces the complexity of having to work with or support a fallback for users who are not logged into Facebook.”

The update will also bring a redesigned look and feel for the plugin, which Facebook claims had resulted in a 45% increase in customer chats with businesses, during its tests.

To some extent, though, that increase could be partly attributed to the surge of customers shopping online due to the coronavirus pandemic, not just the better plugin.

Though Facebook’s plugin has the benefit of being tied to the larger social network, where many businesses today run their own Page to reach customers, it’s still facing a range of chat software competitors, large and small, including solutions from brands like HubSpot, Intercom, Live Chat, Zendesk, Zoho, and dozens of others. These competing solutions will often offer deeper integrations with other services the business may need to use, like CRM, analytics, help desk software, tools for lead gen and sales, and more.

Businesses can now choose to install the plugin themselves, or they can work with partners like WooCommerce, ManyChat, and Haravan to have it installed for them, Facebook says.

 

 

WhatsApp pilots new feature to fight misinformation: Search the web

WhatsApp, one of the most popular instant messaging platforms on the planet, has rolled out a new feature in select markets that makes it easier for users to verify whether the assertions made in messages they have received on the app are true.

The Facebook -owned service has enabled users in Brazil, Italy, Ireland, Mexico, Spain, UK, and US to click on a magnifying glass-shaped icon next to frequently forwarded messages — those that have been forwarded at least five times — to search the web for their contents and verify them.

WhatsApp said the new feature, called ‘search the web’, works by allowing users to upload the message — it could be text or an image — via their browser. This means that WhatsApp itself never sees the content of any message, it said in a blog post.

The feature, available across WhatsApp’s Android, iOS, and Web apps, is in pilot stage, the messaging platform said. It remains unclear how soon WhatsApp intends to roll out this feature, which it began testing several months ago, to users across the globe.

But regardless, the new feature comes at a time when WhatsApp and other messaging platforms are being used more often than ever before as people stay in touch with their friends, families, and colleagues at the height of a global pandemic.

WhatsApp, which has been forced to confront with the spread of misinformation challenge on its platform in recent years, has introduced several features and imposed restrictions to better control the flow in the past year.

In April, WhatsApp put in place additional restriction on how frequently a message could be shared on its platform. WhatsApp said that any message that has been forwarded five or more times will now face a new limit that will prevent a user from forwarding it to more than one chat (contact) at a time. Weeks later, volume of “highly forwarded” messages had already dropped by 70% globally, it claimed.

Though WhatsApp has visibly rushed to take timely actions in recent quarters, misinformation has not vanished from the app. Ill-informed explanations about Indian government’s moves, and “cures” of Covid-19 were still doing rounds on the platform a few months ago in India, its biggest market, for intance. And to be fair, there’s only so much a tech firm can do to fight human stupidity.

Twitter warns investors of possible fine from FTC consent order probe

Twitter has disclosed it’s facing a potential fine of more than a hundred million dollars as a result of a probe by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) which believes the company violated a 2011 consent order by using data provided by users for a security purpose to target them with ads.

In an SEC filing, reported on earlier by the New York Times, Twitter revealed it received the draft complaint from the FTC late last month. The activity the regulator is complaining about is alleged to have taken place between 2013 and 2019.

Last October the social media firm publicly disclosed it had used phone numbers and email addresses provided by users to set up two-factor authentication to bolster the security of their accounts in order to serve targeted ads — blaming the SNAFU on a tailored audiences program, which allows companies to target ads against their own marketing lists.

Twitter found that when advertisers uploaded their own marketing lists (of emails and/or phone numbers) it matched users to data they had submitted purely to set up two-factor authentication on their Twitter account.

“The allegations relate to the Company’s use of phone number and/or email address data provided for safety and security purposes for targeted advertising during periods between 2013 and 2019,” Twitter writes in the SEC filing. “The Company estimates that the range of probable loss in this matter is $150.0 million to $250.0 million and has recorded an accrual of $150.0 million.”

“The matter remains unresolved, and there can be no assurance as to the timing or the terms of any final outcome,” it adds.

We’ve reached out to Twitter with questions.

The company has had a torrid few weeks on the security front, suffering a major security incident last month after hackers gained access to its internal account management tools, enabling them to access accounts of scores of verified Twitter users, including Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Joe Biden, and use them to send cryptocurrency scam tweets. Police have since charged three people with the hack, including a 17-year-old Florida teen.

In June Twitter also disclosed a security lapse may have exposed some business customers’ information. While it was forced to report another crop of security incidents last year — including after a researcher identifying a bug that allowed him to discover phone numbers associated with millions of Twitter accounts.

Twitter also admitted it gave account location data to one of its partners, even if the user had opted-out of having their data shared; and inadvertently gave its ad partners more data than it should have.

Additionally, the company is now at the front of a long queue of tech giants pending enforcement in Europe, related to major GDPR complaints — where regional fines for data violations can scale to 4% of a company’s global annual turnover. Twitter’s lead data protection regulator, Ireland’s DPC, submitted a draft decision related to a probe of one of its security breaches to the bloc’s other data agencies in May — with a final decision slated as likely this summer.

The decision relates to an investigation the regulator instigated following yet another major security fail by Twitter in 2018 — when it revealed a bug had resulted in some passwords being stored in plain text.

As we reported at the time it’s pretty unusual for a company of such size to make such a basic security mistake. But Twitter has a very long history of failing to protect users’ data — with additional hacking incidents all the way back in 2009 leading to the 2011 FTC consent order.

Under the terms of that settlement Twitter was barred for 20 years from misleading consumers about the safety of their data in order to resolve FTC charges that it had “deceived consumers and put their privacy at risk by failing to safeguard their personal information”.

It also agreed to establish and maintain “a comprehensive information security program”, with independent auditor assessments taking place every other year for 10 years.

Given the terms of that order a fine does indeed look inevitable. However the wider failing here is that of US regulators — which, for over a decade, have failed to grapple with the exploitative, surveillance-based business models that have led to breaches and security lapses by a number of data-mining adtech giants, not just Twitter.

Daily Crunch: Microsoft-TikTok acquisition inches closer to reality

A possible Microsoft -TikTok acquisition is causing plenty of drama, we review Google’s new budget Pixel and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon returns to Earth. Here’s your Daily Crunch for August 3, 2020.

Microsoft-TikTok acquisition inches closer to reality

This weekend, Microsoft confirmed reports that it’s in talks to acquire TikTok, the popular mobile video app currently owned by Chinese company ByteDance. It sounds like the outcome of those talks may ultimately have less to do with Microsoft and more with President Donald Trump.

“Following a conversation between Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President Donald J. Trump, Microsoft is prepared to continue discussions to explore a purchase of TikTok in the United States,” the company said in a statement. “Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the President’s concerns. It is committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury.”

And indeed, Trump said today that he’s not opposed to an acquisition, but that “a very substantial portion of that price is going to have to come into the Treasury of the United States.” Meanwhile, Chinese internet users are calling ByteDance’s CEO a traitor.

The tech giants

Google’s budget Pixel 4a addresses its premium predecessor’s biggest problem — Brian Heater reviews the new $349 handset.

Facebook launches commerce and connectivity-focused accelerator programs — Facebook’s Commerce Accelerator will select 60 startups from the EMEA and LATAM regions, while Connectivity will feature 30 startups from LATAM and North America.

Adobe’s plans for an online content attribution standard could have big implications for misinformation — The project was first announced last November, and now the team has a whitepaper going into the nuts and bolts about how its system would work.

Startups, funding and venture capital

YC-backed Artifact looks to make podcasts more personal — Using professionally contracted interviewers, Artifact conducts short interviews with a person’s closest friends or family and turns them into a personal podcast.

Founded by a lifelong house-flipper, Inspectify is a marketplace for home inspections and repairs — Through the platform, buyers can instantly book inspections and receive repair estimates.

Mobile banking startup Varo is becoming a real bank — The company announced that it has been granted a national bank charter from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and secured regulatory approvals from the FDIC and Federal Reserve to open Varo Bank, N.A.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

The essential revenue software stack — Tim Porter and Elise La Cava of Madrona Ventures outline the set of services used by sales, marketing and growth teams across their portfolio to identify and manage their prospects and revenue.

Is the 2020 SPAC boom an echo of the 2017 ICO craze? — Alex Wilhelm looks at two new pieces of SPAC news.

After Shopify’s huge quarter, BigCommerce raises its IPO price range — BigCommerce now intends to price its IPO between $21 and $23 per share.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

SpaceX and NASA successfully return Crew Dragon spacecraft to Earth with astronauts on board — SpaceX’s Crew Dragon appears to have performed exactly as intended throughout the mission, handling the launch, ISS docking, undocking, de-orbit and splashdown in a fully automated process that kept the astronauts safe and secure throughout.

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Say I Do’ offers a wedding-focused twist on the ‘Queer Eye’ formula — I’m not someone who cares about weddings, but this show made me cry. Multiple times!

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Snapchat to take on TikTok with a new music-powered featuring rolling out this fall

Snapchat is taking aim at TikTok. The company announced today it will begin testing a new feature that lets Snapchat users set their Snaps to music, similar to TikTok’s app. The feature may allow Snapchat to capitalize on the fracturing of the TikTok audience, who have been exploring alternative apps as the Trump administration weighs a ban on Chinese tech companies over data privacy concerns.

Already, apps like Byte, Triller, Dubsmash, Likee, and others have climbed the app stores’ charts as TikTok users hedged their bets. Instagram also launched a music-powered feature called Reels to cater to the TikTok crowd.

In Snapchat’s case, users will be able to add music either pre or post capture from what the company promises will be a “robust” catalog of music. This is made possible by way of Snap’s deals with music industry partners, including Warner Music Group, Warner Chappell, Universal Music Publishing Group, NMPA publisher members, Merlin and others, who have licensed their music for use in Snapchat’s app.

When friends receive one of the new Snaps with music, they’ll be able to swipe up to view the album art, song title, and artist name. A “Play This Song” link will also be available. When clicked, it will open a webview to Linkfire that will allow users to listen to the full song — not a snippet — on their preferred music streaming platform, like Spotify, Apple Music or SoundCloud.

This aspect differentiates Snapchat’s implementation from TikTok, where clicking on a video clip’s “sound” link only takes users to a page featuring other clips that have used the same sound. But even though TikTok today lacks a feature that fully connects a user to the artist behind a popular music clip, much less the full song, TikTok’s power has continued to launch breakout hits as users hunted down their favorite TikTok artists across streaming services.

Snapchat says its music feature, however, will allow fans to form deeper connections with artists and music. It also spoke to its strength in being a tool for close friends which gives it more influence — largely because of how its younger user base values friend-to-friend recommendations. Today, Snapchat reaches 90% of all 13-24 year-olds in the U.S., more than Facebook, Instagram and Messenger combined, the company says. It also reaches 75% of 13-34 year-olds. And though TikTok has a large international base, Snapchat claims it reaches more U.S. users than Twitter and TikTok combined, based on publicly available data.

“We’re constantly building on our relationships within the music industry, and making sure the entire music ecosystem — artists, labels, songwriters, publishers and streaming service — are seeing value in our partnerships,” a company spokesperson said, with regard to the new feature.

Snapchat says it will roll out the new feature across English-language markets this fall.

Facebook launches commerce and connectivity-focused accelerator programs

Facebook launched two 12-week accelerator programs for startups on Monday as the social juggernaut looks for new ideas and solutions to expand its commerce and connectivity efforts.

Facebook’s Commerce Accelerator will select 60 startups from the EMEA and LATAM regions for the program, the company said. The startups that make the cut will explore building shopping solutions to drive commerce inside Facebook’s family of apps.

“Our goal is to make shopping seamless and empower anyone from an entrepreneur to the largest brand to use our apps to connect with customers,” wrote Michael Huang, Head of Startup Programs at Facebook, in a blog post.

The company said a recent global survey it conducted in partnership with the OECD and World Bank found that at least a third of small to medium-sized businesses on Facebook reported 25% or more of their sales being made digitally in the past month.

“With so many sales being made online, the importance of intuitive and positive e-commerce experiences for customers has become even greater,” the company said in a statement.

The other accelerator program, called Connectivity, will feature 30 startups from the LATAM and North America (Americas) regions. These startups will be tasked with developing affordable connectivity solutions that make internet access available in more places and to at least 100,000 additional people.

Facebook said through these accelerator programs it aims to provide local development opportunities for entrepreneurs. The company holds one or two similar accelerator programs each year in some markets. In total, the company has launched accelerator programs in 11 countries to date.

The coronavirus pandemic, which has forced Facebook to conduct the accelerator programs virtually this year, has “exposed the hard truth of the digital divide and the critical need for reliable, affordable internet connectivity,” wrote Huang.

Participating startups will gain access to cost-free training, 1:1 mentorship, and access to Facebook products, its expertise and access to a global network of startup peers and successful founders. But the company is not offering monetary benefits to startups —  something it has in some of its previous accelerator programs — at accelerators announced on Monday.

Startups interested in either of the accelerator programs can submit their application.

“At Facebook, we strongly believe that by connecting, training, and growing entrepreneurs and startups through our programs, we can empower people to solve relevant, meaningful problems. We aim to build products that billions of people can use and benefit from,” Huang wrote.

Facebook has long focused on connectivity efforts, but its interest in commerce is relatively new. In May, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg unveiled Facebook Shops to make it easier for companies to list their products on Facebook and Instagram.