On Oct. 4, Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, and the company’s other systems shut down for approximately five hours. This blackout occurred the day after a Facebook whistleblower’s reports showed that the company had been amplifying hate speech, misinformation about the vaccine and other questionable content.
Frances Haugen, the whistleblower, is a former product manager who joined Facebook in 2019. She filed complaints last month to federal law enforcement, and officially outed herself as the whistleblower in a 60 Minutes interview.
In the interview, Haugen displayed Facebook’s own research that shows that it “amplifies hate, misinformation, and political unrest, but the company hides what it knows. One complaint alleges that Instagram harms teenage girls.”
When Haugen left the company, she took many of these reports with her and leaked them to The Wall Street Journal.
According to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, he allows a space on Facebook for everyone to equally share their opinions, and that all posts are cross-checked and held to the same standard. However, the documents shared with The Wall Street Journal show that elites are shielded from this standard.
The documents also showed that Instagram is harmful to teenage girls. According to a JAMA Psychiatry study, increased time spent using social media per day was associated with increased odds of reporting high levels of internalizing and externalizing problems.
The Facebook reports reveal that Facebook has been aware of this issue through several studies they’ve conducted, and have downplayed it to the public and in comments to Congress.
Furthermore, the report showed that Facebook didn’t do much in response to drug cartels and human trafficking gaining a platform on the site. Some of the content posted on the social media site included human trafficking situations in the Middle East, and posts that urged violence against ethnic minorities in Ethiopia.
“It’s definitely shady, I’m going to look into it more now that all this stuff has come out,” said Jessica Spinelli, sophomore nursing major.
Additionally, there were posts of illegal organ selling and pornography. Although employees would flag this content, the documents show that the company itself didn’t do much to address this content.
“Now that today’s testimony is over, I wanted to reflect on the public debate we’re in,” said Zuckerberg in a Facebook post. “I’m sure many of you have found the recent coverage hard to read because it just doesn’t reflect the company we know. We care deeply about issues like safety, well-being and mental health, it’s difficult to see coverage that misrepresents our work and our motives.”
He continued on to say, “Many of the claims don’t make any sense. If we wanted to ignore research, why would we create an industry-leading research program to understand these important issues in the first place? If we didn’t care about fighting harmful content, then why would we employ so many more people dedicated to this than any other company in our space — even ones larger than us?”
He also addressed the outrage and apologized for the sites being down on Monday.
Many believe that the blackout was conducted by Facebook in order to remove the evidence of their negligence in post regulation, but the company claims that it was due to “a faulty configuration change.”
“I haven’t really thought about it,” said Kristen Quarless, sophomore business marketing major. “After the apps came back I ignored the fact that it blacked out and used it again.”
Haugen went before Congress on Oct. 5, providing her testimony detailing the ethical concerns of Facebook. She recommends that they amend Section 230 so that Facebook would be held accountable for the content they promote, and that Congress requests certain documents from Facebook.
Photo Courtesy of The Economic Times.