Until a decade ago, Facebook, popular social media corporation used to be surrounded by sheer innocence and was seen as an epitome of tech positivism etched in America’s aspirations. So much so, that the ranking executives were looked upon as sages of almost everything and Mark Zuckerberg who used to sport a hoodie, was declared “2010 Person of the Year” by Time Magazine. He was referred to as “the connector” as the Facebook had emerged as the ground common to masses across the world, enabling people to voice their views and thoughts, through it.
Time magazine has again shown a great tilt towards Mark this month as he gets to the cover page but with the caption, “Delete Facebook”. Clearly, a radical drift in the zeitgeist has taken place.
As a matter of factly, Facebook and a handful of other applications that it owns, such as Instagram and WhatsApp are now dreaded for a harm such may cause. Such are now considered as the factories of misinformation, polarization and hate speech while the CEO and his colleagues earn billions of dollars in revenue in every quarter. Further, user base of Facebook continues to swell and almost half of humanity is supposed to be connected to it.
Recently, the name of Frances Haugen gathered a huge spotlight, who is Facebook whistleblower, obliging The Washington Post to publish a slew of reports on the basis of internal documentation. Such findings were sent for a review by a consortium of media outlets by taking Haugen account, as per US Securities and Exchange Commission.
Referred to as “Facebook Papers”, such is an amalgamation of presentation, research outcomes, discussion threads and strategy memos, but in media, redacted variety of documents are in circulation through Haugen’s counsel.
The documents indicate stark and damning exploits of Facebook, as one finds a contrast in what Zuckerberg laid out publicly about Facebook’s principles and activities. Citing an example, he once assured American Congress of removing hate speeches and racial slurs by 94%, but going by the internal assessment, the opposite seems to be the apposite and only 5% of such objectionable content was shielded.
Facebook Is Alleged For Hate Spread:
Just before the January 6 attack on Capitol, Facebook’s efforts to curtail the misinformation, grew weak and to the disdain of company’s employees, “stop the steal” rally was appealed to be joined, notably by far-right groups.
An employee not wishing to be named, confirmed, “This is not a new problem, We have been watching this behavior from politicians like Trump, and the — at best — wishy washy actions of company leadership, for years now. We have been reading the [farewell] posts from trusted, experienced and loved colleagues who write that they simply cannot conscience working for a company that does not do more to mitigate the negative effects on its platform.”
Beyond US, Facebook efforts have drew flake too for its inability to control misinformation. To emphasize, an experiment was done where a dummy account was created reflecting a 21 year old woman, a resident of North India. The intention was to check the Facebook experience of a young woman in India, which is among the largest of markets for Facebook.
In no time since the profile was created, the (fake) user was flooded with posts propagating hatred for Muslims and jingoistic support for PM Modi alongside a deluge of fake news.
One involved in the fake account experiment reported, “An internal Facebook memo, reviewed by The Washington Post, called the dummy account test an ‘integrity nightmare’ that underscored the vast difference between the experience of Facebook in India and what U.S. users typically encounter misinformation in South Asia.”
“One Facebook worker noted the staggering number of dead bodies.”
Yet in part due to lack of attention, but also likely due to pressures from the Modi government, Facebook has fallen short. “Their investment in a country’s democracy is conditional,” Pratik Sinha, co-founder of a leading fact-checking site in India, told my colleagues. “It is beneficial to care about it in the U.S. Banning Trump works for them there. They can’t even ban a small-time guy in India.”
Facebook Pledged Support To Safety:
Besides, the Facebook papers also make Zuckerberg to come clean on maximum engagement as well as the company’s coherent support to safety concerns and best practices. Zuckerberg is said to have bolstered the tenets of censorship elsewhere while in America, he acts like a flagbearer of free speech maximalism. Someone has also flagged a 2019 episode in Vietnam, where Zuckerberg laid out a plan to adhere to demands put out by autocratic government in Hanoi where dissent was censored on Facebook.
It was revealed, “Ahead of Vietnam’s party congress in January, Facebook significantly increased censorship of ‘anti-state’ posts, giving the government near-total control over the platform, according to local activists and free speech advocates.”
Zuckerberg revealed yesterday, “My view is that what we are seeing is a coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to paint a false picture of our company.”
Dani Lever, Spokeswoman at Facebook also contented, “We have no commercial or moral incentive to do anything other than give the maximum number of people as much of a positive experience as possible.”
“Like every platform, we are constantly making difficult decisions between free expressions and harmful speech, security and other issues, and we don’t make these decisions inside a vacuum.”
However, Facebook’s raw reality is clear and open to all of us to check and such is echoed by its employees as well.
Just yesterday, Haugen appeared in Britain before a parliamentary hearing and recorded her experience of having seen a bulk of internal research that is held in bad taste by Facebook fans due to its algorithms.
She observes, “Bad actors have an incentive to play the algorithm,” she said. “The current system is biased toward bad actors and people who push people to the extremes.”
Going by the Atlantic’s Adrienne La-France, it labels Facebook Papers as “astonishing for two reasons”.
“First, because their sheer volume is unbelievable. And second, because these documents leave little room for doubt about Facebook’s crucial role in advancing the cause of authoritarianism in America and around the world. Authoritarianism predates the rise of Facebook, of course. But Facebook makes it much easier for authoritarians to win.”