We’ve learned a lot of judgmental information about Facebook over the last month. Internal documents published in Wall Street Journal’s Facebook files show that the social media giant is deliberately encouraging anger and division on its platform despite real and political consequences. Now the Facebook employee who leaked this information to Journal published just one day before Facebook is scheduled to attend a congressional hearing.
Frances Haugen joined Facebook’s Civic Integrity team in 2019 in hopes of combating misinformation on the platform. This team was founded to mitigate Facebook’s negative impact on society – and to be clear, we are not just talking about elections. A wide range of topics were examined by the Civic Integrity team, including the platform’s potential for violent assaults (something we saw in the genocide coup in Myanmar 2018) and its impact on the teenager’s body image.
One of the biggest obstacles for the Civic Integrity team was a controversial algorithm that Facebook introduced in 2018. In the words of Frances Haugen, this algorithm encourages “hate” and “polarizing” content, which elicits an emotional response from users and makes them return for more. Facebook actually downplayed this algorithm to slow the spread of misinformation during the U.S. election in 2020, but reversed the changes and disbanded the Civic Integrity team after the election ended.
Shortly afterwards, insurgents used Facebook to announce and organize the January 6 attack on the US capital. Frances Haugen then felt the need to collect “tens of thousands” of internal Facebook documents, including research and corporate communications, to share with federal authorities after the uprising.
These documents confirm that Facebook encourages division on its platform despite ample evidence that “hate speech, divisive political speech and misinformation on Facebook and the family of apps affect communities around the world.” And while Zuckerberg insists that Facebook fights misinformation and hate speech, the company’s research shows that it “can [take down or punish] as little as 3-5% of hatred, and about 0.6% of [violence and incitement] on its platform. ”
Documents leaked by Frances Haugen also show that Facebook ignores evidence of human trafficking and other illegal activity on its platforms, especially when such activity takes place outside the United States. It also continues to develop an “Instagram for Kids” app despite internal research linking its services to body image and suicidal thoughts in children. (Facebook’s research explicitly states that its services are worse for children than other social media platforms.)
Congress will take a closer look at Facebook’s leaked documents during a hearing tomorrow, October 5th. Although we do not know what awaits Facebook, Haugen believes that she has offered the federal government and the press an indisputable proof that the social media empire has done something wrong. As expected, Facebook is currently trying to minimize these allegations, saying it is doing everything it can to combat misinformation and violence.
Source: CBS News / 60 Minutes