The disparate global locations that make up New Zealand Facebook - and your news feed video

Stuff.co.nz

New Zealand's Facebook is headquartered in Singapore.

Close to half of New Zealand uses Facebook every single day. It's eaten up almost a fifth of digital advertising revenue, sucking $30 million from our economy with little to no tax obligation. After sleeping, working, and watching TV, it's the thing we do the most

But if you have a problem with this vast apparatus, inexorably intertwined with our lives, there is no number to call. There is no door to knock on. Facebook is everywhere in New Zealand - and across the western world - but it is also nowhere, a layer upon our lives that can only really be contacted from within itself.

Facebook is not alone in this. It suits technology companies to appear almost other-worldly, all abstraction and website, with a few visible people at the top and very little transparency around their actual infrastructure.

But Facebook does have real-world offices all over the world, and physical infrastructure that makes the digital service possible.

Facebook directly employs 17,000 people worldwide, with many other jobs fulfilled by contractors and subcontractors. It is unclear how many of those 17,000 are in New Zealand, but the number is unlikely to top 100. 

Facebook have a small office in Britomart, Auckland.
Supplied

Facebook have a small office in Britomart, Auckland.

The company has operated an Auckland office since 2009, reportedly out of a Britomart office - although its registered offices are those of Kensington Swan lawyers in Wellington.

Facebook press representatives, who are based out of the Sydney office, declined to comment on the size or focus of the office, instead emphasising the partnerships their team has built up with local groups like NetSafe. 

Conversations with former employees who wished not be named indicated the office was small and focused primarily on advertising. This is backed up by an analysis of public job listings for the office since 2013. Over those years, it appears less than five NZ-specific roles were publicly offered, although some job listings may have been filled internally or too fast to be cached by web archival tools.

Mia Garlick is Facebook Australia and NZ director of policy.
SUPPLIED

Mia Garlick is Facebook Australia and NZ director of policy.

"We've regularly got people providing support for New Zealand - sometimes they are in New Zealand, sometimes they are based somewhere else," said Mia Garlick, head of policy for Facebook Australia and New Zealand.

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"After the Kaikoura Earthquake we turned on Safety Check, and that was done automatically through work done by people based in the US, but over 300,000 people in New Zealand marked themselves as safe - so it's kind of like we are there to support New Zealand no matter where we are located."

Facebook's CEO is Mark Zuckerberg.
STEPHEN LAM/REUTERS

Facebook's CEO is Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook, as most people know, is headed by 32-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, the Harvard dropout who co-founded the company in his dorm room. 

As the CEO and chairman, Zuckerberg heads both the management team and the board of directors who represent the investors. Zuckerberg still owns around a fifth of the company, even as he has started to sell off his shares to donate to charity.

Zuckerberg is joined on both the board and the management team by Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, known for her book Lean In. 

The numbers behind Facebook's $43,000 tax bill in New Zealand.
If you take the number of Facebook users in New Zealand and multiply it by what the average Asia/Pacific user is worth, Facebook’s revenue here would likely be between $5m and $6m.
But in 2014, its declared revenue was just $1.197m, about a fifth of this amount. This puts a New Zealand Facebook user’s worth at about 50c, well below the average Asia/Pacific user worth of $2.90.
Of this $1.197 million, $1.185 (98 percent) went towards Facebook’s expenses.
This means Facebook’s pre-tax profit was just $12,000, and after paying $43,000 in tax, it made a loss. Facebook’s significant costs in New Zealand whittled away its revenue, leading to a tiny profit which kept its tax bill low.
WORDS Hamish McNicol
PRODUCTION Suyeon Son and Andy Fyers
UI & UX Katrina Berry and Britt McLeod
Revenue
The amount of money Facebook makes. Most of its revenue comes from businesses paying to advertise on the site.
Expenses
The cost of doing business, such as employee wages.
Profit
What's left over when you take expenses away from your revenue. Taxes are then paid on any profits.

On the board but not the management team is once-secret New Zealand citizen Peter Thiel, who was the first outside investor in Facebook. He sold much of his stock in the company way back in 2012, netting him over US$1 billion from an initial $500,000 investment, but still owns a small stake.

Thiel is the only Kiwi in the upper echelons of the company.

Facebook's "matrix" organisational structure makes divining a clear line from Zuckerberg to New Zealand difficult. While operations here are overseen by Facebook's Asia-Pacific team headquartered in Singapore, much of the way the website works is handled centrally in California or by product-specific teams, like the one that handles Messenger or Instagram.

It's tempting to imagine tech companies as self-run beasts, with a small number of coders and designers keeping the gears of a mostly-automated machine running.

There is a certain truth to this. 17,000 full time employees is a very small number of workers for a company of this size - it's less than New Zealand's Fletchers, and about a tenth of the workers at Disney, a company worth a similar amount of money.

But that official 17,000 figure hides away all the contractors and subcontractors. Thousands and thousands of other people are contracted to Facebook through various companies to do the hidden dirty work that keeps your news feed free of graphic pornography or violence: content moderation.

All social networks have some form of content moderation. It's hard to run a proper business without a system to stop people uploading blatantly illegal photos, video, and even text. Different jurisdictions have different standards, requiring country-specific teams - Facebook takes down "blasphemous" posts in Pakistan, for example.

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But much of the moderation isn't simply concerned with legality. Facebook has built its huge userbase with the implicit promise that you'll never see anything on there that would upset your grandma. Nudity and gore, including the kind you see in war photography, is banned. Direct attacks on others, bullying, hate-speech, support for certain groups, and all kinds of other behaviour violates Facebook's voluminous community standards. There's also the building pressure to remove "fake news" from the platform. 

As far as the technology has come, much of this moderation still requires a human touch. More than a million pieces of content every day are flagged by users for review. Then the moderators get to work.

Putting an exact number on Facebook's moderation team is difficult, as much of the work is done by other companies contracted to Facebook. Experts told Wired that well over a hundred thousand people are employed in the industry as a whole. Many of them work for companies based in the Philippines, where the population speaks English well but are paid very little. One experienced worker told Wired he was asked by a company moderating Facebook content to work for as little as NZ$445 a month.

Garlick told Stuff Facebook had a specific team moderating New Zealand content, but this team was not based here.

"The standards are global and the teams that review the content that is reported to us, we have them in different parts of the world so that we can provide a 24/7 service across 40 different languages. I'm sure there's New Zealanders on staff - we have a team that is set up to moderate the content out of New Zealand."

The internet is all around us, but it is also in specific places, stored on hard drives in data centres all over the world. Every time you access anything on the web a server somewhere is retrieving that data and sending it across the world to you.

The nature of Facebook's giant distributed network means copies of your data are probably held on servers in many different locations the world over. But geographic proximity does still play a major role in keeping global networks speedy - that's why online gamers still join "Oceanic" or Australian servers and so many data centres exist near the United States' populous northeast.

Facebook officially operates seven data centres across Europe and North America, but it is also reported to contract out some of its hosting needs. According to Data Center Knowledge, Facebook uses a data centre in Singapore to serve the Asian market. It's likely that's the one where we get a lot of our Facebook from too.

So next time you're scrolling down your news feed, you might see a photo posted by your mum, hosted in Singapore, moderated out of the Philippines, running off code built in America, all beneath an ad sold in Auckland. It's a wild world.

 - Stuff

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