Posted Oct 23, 2021, 1:15 PMUpdated Nov 4, 2021, 10:20 a.m.
Facebook in turmoil! The most used social network in the world has not finished with the sensational revelations and the attacks accusing it of putting profits before the moderation of dangerous messages. Throughout the weekend, the publication in the American press of new internal documents came to confirm the recent declarations of the former employee Frances Haugen to the American Congress. These reports indicate in particular that Facebook teams were well aware that the dissemination of hateful messages on the platform caused riots, such as at the Capitol, on January 6, 2020, in Washington, or in India, in February 2020.
In such a degraded context, the two financial and strategic meetings scheduled for this week will be of particular importance for the group led by Mark Zuckerberg. Monday evening, the company must present its financial results for the third quarter. It will have to defend its image with advertisers, while its turnover could also be impacted by Apple’s recent measures against targeted advertising.
Above all, on Thursday, the group is organizing a conference on virtual and augmented reality. According to The Verge, he could take the opportunity to announce a name change, to emphasize his ambitions for the metaverse, a virtual 3D world that could be the future of the Internet. A change which, in the current climate, could be interpreted as an attempt to make people forget the setbacks of the group.
A “straw fire”
According to the “Washington Post”, a new whistleblower has just testified to the SEC, the American stock market authority. He reportedly signed his deposition on October 13, a week after Frances Haugen’s withheld statements to the US Congress. Among the most sensational revelations of the latter, documents showing that Facebook feared the impact of its Instagram sector on the mental health of adolescents.
For its part, the new “Whistleblower” relates in particular to remarks made in 2017 by Tucker Bounds, a member of Facebook’s communications team. At the time, the company was looking for the best way to handle the controversy over Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election through its platform. “It will be a flash in the pan. Elected officials will groan. And in a few weeks, they will have moved on. In the meantime, we print money in the basement and everything is fine,” he reportedly said.
According to information from The Washington Post, Facebook managers regularly undermined efforts to combat misinformation, hate speech and other problematic content for fear of angering former US President Donald Trump and his political allies. They also feared losing users’ attention, which is essential to the group’s healthy profits.
The story repeats itself
New documents that whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked and various US newspapers obtained that history repeated itself in 2020. Facebook was aware of the radicalization of many users and the flood of misinformation in connection with the last year’s US presidential election, but failed to respond accordingly.
At the beginning of November, says the “New York Times”, a few days after the election, an analyst let his colleagues know, for example, that 10% of the political content viewed by users of the platform were messages assuring that the vote had been rigged.
This baseless rumor, hammered home by ex-President Donald Trump, fueled the anger of many conservatives and conspiracy theorists, which culminated in the Capitol Riots on January 6. In the process, Facebook, like Twitter and other major platforms, banned Donald Trump and the extremist movements involved in the riots. According to new revelations published Friday by American newspapers, Facebook employees believe that the platform could have better anticipated the problem.
Facebook’s “supervisory board”, a body set up by the platform to deal with content moderation disputes as a last resort, has also just judged, in its first report on transparency, that Facebook had on several occasions “failed” to “provide him with relevant information”. It refers in particular to the derogatory rules for users with high visibility, only revealed by the “Facebook Files” having leaked in the press.
Controversies and new name
In a statement, Facebook said it had taken “additional steps” to combat misinformation before, during and after the US election. The Californian firm must face the hostility of elected officials, who could decide to impose a stricter legislative framework.
One thing is certain, the flood of revelations should not dry up: a consortium of a dozen press organizations, from CNN to “Le Monde”, is preparing to publish articles based on the documents of the whistleblowers , according to L’Information .
Uplifting in-house experiences
The “Wall Street Journal” tells how a researcher working for Facebook created a fictitious account named “Carol Smith”, a “conservative mom” from Wilmington, North Carolina, interested in “young children, parenting, Christianity, “civics and community”. His tastes leaned to the right, but not to the extreme right.
On the first day of the experiment, the algorithm recommended the same humorous and generally conservative groups the fictional Mrs. Smith joined. On day two, it was almost exclusively recommending right-wing content, including some that leaned toward conspiracy theories. By day five, the platform was directing Ms. Smith to groups obviously affiliated with QAnon. The content featured false claims of “white genocide” and “a video promoting a banned hate group.”
A subsequent study of the platform’s recommendations to a liberal user found a similar distorting effect. The documents showed that Facebook employees did alert their management, which was then very reluctant to react.