This isn’t the first warning shot Facebook has heard. But this one resonates much louder and closer than the others. A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal published the content of internal reports that showed that Mark Zuckerberg’s company was fully aware of the damage done to its social network; Facebook had refused to disclose these results.
Depression and eating disorder.
In particular, the documents show that Facebook-owned Instagram was having a disastrous effect on teenage eating disorders and depression. It also appears that Facebook is fully aware that its algorithms and content recommendation mechanism designed to keep Internet users on the social network promote the distribution and sharing of content that causes divisions, hatred and extremes. But trying to fix it could jeopardize Facebook’s business model and revenue.
From a source whose anonymity the American newspaper had kept, these embarrassing documents were exfiltrated by a former Facebook employee, Frances Haugen. He decided to testify with his face uncovered this week on CBS’s 60 Minutes show. It must also be heard by the United States Senate this Tuesday, October 5, 2021.
Breach of financial market rules
Because this 37-year-old data scientist, a computer scientist by training and a Harvard Business School graduate, hasn’t just come out of reports and studies. He filed eight federal complaints with the SEC, the agency responsible for overseeing the rules of financial activities and the securities market. In fact, Facebook is a publicly traded company. By not making public what he knew about his own activities, says Frances Haugen, he lied to his investors, deceived them when his executives claimed that everything was under control, which is a crime.
Joining Facebook in 2019 to tackle the problem of misinformation on the social network, France Haugen resigned in 2021 after having lost all illusions. The cell supposedly to prevent risks to the US presidential elections, of which he was a part, was dissolved just after the elections, and Facebook executives noted that there had been no unrest. However, on January 6, 2020, the US Congress suffered an insurgency and an invasion by militants who refused to take Joe Biden’s inauguration as the new president of the United States. Facebook messages and posts calling for this assault circulated without any shame. When Frances Haugen voiced these concerns on her employer’s internet network and asked when Facebook would actually react, she was fired on the ropes.
Thousands of pages of internal documents
Therefore, the whistleblower copied thousands of pages of internal documents and leaked them. There are many unmistakable comments and figures on the scope of what Facebook knows. For example, despite its reassuring statements, the network admits that it cannot moderate more than 3-5% of hate content. That it can only process 1/6 of 1% of the messages that transmit violence or incitement to violence. According to Frances Haugen, internal reports point to the fact that hate speech, deepening political divisions and misinformation are wreaking havoc around the world. A 2019 document indicates that European political parties, having understood the mechanics of Facebook, deliberately favor extreme positions in their posts, to react and provoke outrage. Yet this is precisely what benefits Facebook’s finances.
The former employee believes that the real problems date back to March 2018. At that time, a modification was made in the algorithm that automatically made the contents of the contacts appear, of the sponsored ones, on the pages of the members of the social network . targeted content or advertisements. This modification favors the types of publications to which the Internet user is used to reacting: a like, a comment, a reissue, a recommendation. And what elicits a reaction is not the measured, neutral content, but those that arouse anger, revenge, indignation.
But even worse, in terms of Instagram, the photo-sharing application acquired by Facebook in 2012. An internal study of adolescents found that for 32% of them, when they felt bad about their body, Instagram worsened this feeling. For 17%, the eating disorders worsened and for 13.5%, they were suicidal thoughts. At the end of September, already in crisis, Instagram announced that it would postpone the launch of a version planned for at least 13 years. I’m not sure this is enough to get through between the drops. Now, the looming issue is simply a control of Facebook and social networks in general by the authorities. Everything Mark Zuckerberg always tried to avoid.
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