The ‘Facebook papers’: a storm that is just beginning

In the 17 years since its creation in a university residence in the United States, Facebook He has weathered numerous storms that have threatened his empire over the world of social media. But never a hurricane, perhaps a category 5 hurricane, like the one that this giant is currently facing and that has against the ropes Mark Zuckerberg, your Creator.

(Read here: ‘Metaverse’: everything you need to know and the questions that remain).

The origin of the current crisis dates back to an investigation published on August 15 by The Wall Street Journal which was based on company documents that were leaked to him by Frances Haugen, whose identity as of that date was still unknown.

The documents, which include internal discussions by their employees, executive presentations and other reports, yield a great general conclusion: that Facebook and its other platforms, such as Instagram, are aware of and have studied in detail its harmful effects on vulnerable sectors of society , but they have been looking to the side for years to favor its expansion and its economic benefits.

The disclosures prompted an investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and several hearings in the US Congress, where pressure is mounting to finally put the company on the back burner.

(You may be interested: Could the transformation of Facebook affect your account on the social network?).

Facebook alleges that 18,000 million has been spent
dollars in personnel
and programs to block inappropriate content

But this week the crisis took on gigantic proportions. Haugen traveled to the UK for a hearing in Parliament where he revealed more lurid company secrets. And, in parallel, a consortium of international media, among which are The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Atlantic, NBC, NPR and many more (17 in total), began to publish the results of their own investigations based on these same documents (which are more than 10,000) and which they have baptized as the ‘Facebook papers’, in a clear allusion to the famous papers From the Pentagon: A set of writings leaked to the Times in 1971 about the Lyndon B. Johnson administration’s lies about the Vietnam War.

Since then, not a single day has passed without some of these media not publishing a scandalous new revelation about Facebook’s practices. And all have announced, in turn, that it is only the beginning, since they have new documents, which are being reviewed, and with testimonies from employees and former employees who want to follow in Haugen’s footsteps.

“Time and again, the documents reveal, Facebook’s own researchers have identified the harmful effects of the platform. And time and time again, despite its promises, congressional hearings and disclosures in the press, the company has not corrected anything. These documents offer perhaps the clearest movie on how deep the problems are and the full awareness that Facebook has of them, including its own boss (Zuckerberg), “said the Journal these days.

The crisis is so serious that the company announced on Thursday the change of its name to Meta, in an attempt – for all evident – to contain the hemorrhage. Zuckerberg himself made the announcement under the mantle that it is the launch of a new business model – and of which brushstrokes had already been made – with which he seeks to transcend social networks to focus on the development of a virtual reality community extreme (the metaverse), where people can interact to create content and develop multiple aspects of their lives.

(Also read: Meta: what was Mark Zuckerberg’s inspiration for this name?).

But going back to the complaints, the new details revealed are of all kinds. From how the company lent itself to human and sexual trafficking, pornography, a platform for drug cartels, repression against minorities, censorship in other countries of the world, promotion of hatred, bullying and even to hit the self-esteem of adolescents.

However, this week in the US there was much emphasis on the role of the social network in the so-called insurrection of January 6, when a mob of Trumpists took over the Capitol to try to prevent the certification of the victory of Joe Biden in the 2020 elections.

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen testifies during a U.S. Senate Committee hearing.

To try to prevent the penetration into its platforms of false information and hate speech that marked the 2016 electoral campaign, Facebook implemented in 2020 a series of measures that had been recommended by a civic unit that was dedicated to evaluating this phenomenon. Haugen worked in that unit.

Following Biden’s victory in November, Facebook dismantled the team and removed many of the controls. A space that numerous groups used to organize the taking of the Capitol. In some of the documents it is stated that Zuckerberg himself gave the order because he feared antagonizing the Republicans and Trumpists.

And although after the events of 6 the company blocked the accounts of former President Trump and resumed its effort to control misinformation, it was too late.
According to Haugen, much of the problem is that Facebook has made a conscious decision to privilege and promote certain types of content for financial reasons. But at the same time, it lacks the resources and staff to monitor and control the massive traffic that moves through its networks, although, according to the company, it has spent $ 18 billion on these efforts.

A reality that is having a disproportionate impact on the rest of the countries of the world, where Facebook has millions of users. According to the documents, 84 percent of that amount is dedicated to controls in the US and only 16 percent in other countries. In other words, the development of controls in other countries is minimal and this has been provided for Facebook to become a market for trafficking in women in the Middle East, that is, exploited even by terrorist groups.

(In other news: How is the metaverse of Facebook going to be in Colombia?).

Even so, the ‘papers’ account for multiple opportunities in which Facebook employees alerted about this type of crimes without much being done to prevent them. Like the case of a Mexican drug cartel that continues to use the platforms to intimidate and transact business, although the company has known about it for months.

Another of the most striking revelations is that of Vietnam. Although Zuckerberg has always presented himself as a champion of freedom of expression, it has transpired that he ended up accepting the demands of the Hanoi communist government when it threatened to shut down the platform if it did not censor critics of the regime.

In January of last year, shortly before the legislative elections in that country, the company literally blocked a large part of the publications that had an anti-government tinge. Facebook defended the move, claiming that the closure of the platform had silenced the voices of millions in a country where the social network is vital for civil society. What he did not say is that with the decision Zuckerberg secured the 1,000 million dollars annually that the company generates in that country.

Much of the media research focused on a central aspect of Facebook’s business and its problem as well. As of 2017, the algorithm began to give five times more weight to comments with the angry emoji compared to others such as ‘I like’ because the former generated more reactions and traffic than the latter and kept users for longer in the messages. platforms.

It was not until last year, when the company’s technicians noticed that angry reactions occurred more frequently in fake or biased news, that the value of the emoji was changed to zero. Immediately, the documents say, “people started receiving less fake or toxic content.”

Although Zuckerberg has said that the company does not design its products to get people involved as long as possible, the ‘papers’ suggest otherwise.

“The company extensively investigated changes in its policies that sought to increase user engagement and other factors to increase its profits. His interest in capturing public attention was so great that he delayed or abandoned initiatives that sought to reduce disinformation or radicalization, the Post reported.

The documents, and so many emphasized, further demonstrate that Zuckerberg lied to Congress and the public openly. During a hearing last year, the businessman told the legislature that the company removed 94 percent of offensive or hateful comments from the platform before a human reported them. But according to their own researchers – the ‘papers’ reveal – that figure is only 5 percent.

Dani Lever, a Facebook spokesman, denied this week that Zuckerberg made decisions with “intent to cause harm” and objected to the investigations, saying they are based on specific documents that have been taken out of context. An explanation that, of course, will not be enough to silence his critics or stop the reforms and new regulations that are advancing in many countries to regulate this titan of social networks. So it’s called Facebook or Meta.

SERGIO GÓMEZ MASERI
TIME CORRESPONDENT
WASHINGTON

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The ‘Facebook papers’: a storm that is just beginning