Many of us on Facebook have a love / hate relationship with the platform, but partly for selfish reasons. Not because of sinister financial deals that allow Cambridge Analytica to harvest users’ personal information to overturn an election, but because a post didn’t get enough likes. Not because Russian actors were able to spread disinformation during the 2016 election, but because of all the friend requests from creeps with fake Indian names and no other friends.
But now comes Frances Haugen, a graduate of Iowa City West and Harvard University who worked for Facebook’s Civic Integrity Unit and uncovered uncomfortable truths about her absence. As Haugen told Congress in testimony Tuesday, “Company executives know how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but they won’t… because they put their astronomical profits ahead of them. people. “
To prove that the company “knowingly amplifies hate online,” Haugen copied thousands of company documents, leading to the Wall Street Journal’s painful series of what they reveal. “Time and time again, the documents show, Facebook researchers have identified the platform’s adverse effects,” he reports. “Time and time again, despite congressional hearings, its own commitments, and numerous media briefings, the company has not corrected them. The documents offer perhaps the clearest picture to date of the extent of awareness of Facebook’s issues within the company, right down to the CEO himself.
Reports of the dark underside of the beast began to surface in 2016, as some of us were distracted by what online access could do for us. It could be selling a couch, advertising an event, running a column, or promoting a candidate. Facebook offers an unlimited free audience.
Reported abuses that are now coming to light include the exploitation of adolescents’ vulnerability to self-deprecation and eating disorders. Measured against the polished, styled, and photoshopped images of feminine perfection on Instagram, owned by Facebook, some girls have suffered. Employees also raised concerns with management about human traffickers using the platform to lure Middle Eastern women into abusive work situations. Some staff were concerned that armed groups in Ethiopia would use it to incite violence against ethnic minorities. Organ sales, pornography and the government’s suppression of political dissent were also present, and documents indicate little to no response from the company.
“Digital spaces have been colonized and their unique dynamic exploited by malicious actors who instrumentalize hatred and disinformation,” writes the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate. “These movements are opportunistic, nimble and confident to exert influence and persuade people.”
He gives the example of Facebook accepting up to $ 140,667 in ad revenue for so-called “abortion reversal” ads, targeting girls as young as 13 years old. It states that these ads have been viewed up to 18.4 million times, despite Facebook’s policy against minor targeted ads that promote inappropriate, illegal or dangerous products, services or content. The policies also prohibit the promotion of the sale or use of “dangerous substances, products or supplements”. The abortion reversal has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and tests have shown dangerous results.
We may all remember President Joe Biden lashing out at Facebook and other social media in July for allowing disinformation about COVID-19, as the delta variant of the coronavirus spread and vaccinations slowed. . For weeks, the New York Times reported, the administration tried to get Facebook to post information about what it was doing to tackle vaccine misinformation. “They’re killing people,” Biden said. “Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated.”
One person responsible for this was Joseph Mercola, a Florida-based osteopathic doctor who called the COVID vaccines a medical fraud. Facebook has published more than 600 articles by him, read by more than 400,000 people, according to an analysis of the Times. Mercola promotes unapproved alternative treatments.
For all this, Facebook can be a force for democratization if it is not tampered with. Many people use it to broadcast campaign messages, like Tiara Mays, who is running for Johnston’s school board. “This campaign is expensive and we try to be good stewards of the money, so please share on social media,” she urged people in a recent address, asking them to check out her page Facebook.
But the Wall Street Journal series suggests that, despite Facebook’s claims, not all of its users are treated the same. “Privately, the company built a system that exempted high-level users from some or all of its rules.… Today, it protects millions of VIPs from the company’s normal enforcement, show the Many abuse the privilege, posting material including harassment and incitement to violence that would usually result in punishment. “
Facebook claims to be working to fix it, the story goes.
Haugen said Facebook prioritizes posts that receive a lot of likes, shares and comments, even if they are fake and shake people up. She suggested that Congress change Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which would hold platforms like Facebook accountable for content they proactively promote if it leads to violence. U.S. Representative Tom Malinowski, a Democrat from New Jersey co-sponsoring the legislation with Representative Anna G. Eshoo, a Democrat from California, said Section 230 “exempts online platforms from legal liability for user-generated content. “.
“Social media companies have been playing hard in trying to bring down the QAnon conspiracies and other extremist content, but they are not changing the design of a social network designed to amplify extremism,” said Malinowski. “Their algorithms are based on harnessing primary human emotions – fear, anger and anxiety – to keep users glued to their screens, and thus regularly promote and recommend white supremacy, anti-Semitism and others. forms of conspiracy-oriented content. “
He said the bill establishes the first legal incentive for social media companies “to correct the underlying architecture of their services – something they have shown they are capable of doing but they are consciously choose not to do so ”.
Other ideas for protecting against the potentially destructive fallout from social media include federal privacy legislation and a new federal agency to regulate social media.
If Facebook and other platforms are to become truly democratic means of interaction, hate propaganda, lies and preferential treatment cannot be encouraged at the expense of vulnerable populations, even thousands of miles away. Haugen’s courageous testimony should awaken us all to this new form of corporate malfeasance and make its ban urgent.
Just see how many likes it gets.