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In May 2021, Frances Haugen resigned from Facebook with internal Facebook documents, including internal memos and research that exposes the social media giants’ failure to act on harmful content. She then proceeded to leak said information to Wall Street Journal in September 2021, a Testimony to US senators on October 5th, and another to UK MPs and peers on Monday 25th October. Now Facebook is now ordering staff to preserve documents and communications whilst facing multiple investigations.
Employees’ welcome to the Facebook office on Tuesday was treated with orders to preserve all documents and internal communications. This is standard practice for any company on the brink of legal or class action lawsuits. Whilst this is a good way to get a company organized for whatever storm is coming their way, the reasons behind it are shady, to say the least.
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Reuters managed to get hold of a Facebook spokesperson regarding the social media giants’ reaction to the leaks, stating: “On Tuesday, Facebook sent a legal hold notice to all personnel. Document preservation requests are part of the process of responding to legal inquiries”. Welcome to Facebook everyone, this is confirmation that a big legal battle is likely to get underway.
As Facebook’s profits exceed $9 billion in the last quarter alongside a 6% increase in daily active users, Mark Zuckerberg told investors that the issues the company is facing “aren’t primarily about social media” but relating to “polarization [that] started rising in the US before I was born”. We don’t know if this is Zuckerberg acknowledging the situation or brushing it off, but it’s a big deal if it’s made its way into an earnings call.
Welcome to Facebook: Why is this happening and what does it mean for users?
Frances Haugen leaked internal Facebook research and memos to the Wall Street Journal last month. These documents suggest Facebook is overlooking mental health issues, violence in developing countries, and criminal activity in favor of profits. Here’s a quick rundown of what the documents brought to light according to The Guardian:
Teenage body shaming: Facebook research slides showed that one in three teenage girls stated Instagram made their body issues worse. One in three teenagers stated Instagram made using social media problematic with one in four stating Instagram contributed to social comparison issues. Whilst research was carried out, Haugen states nothing has been done about it.
Violence and hate speech: Facebook’s fight against misinformation is 87% focused on English-speaking users, whilst only 9% of users are English speakers. Facebooks engagement-based ranking isn’t filtered by security protocols or monitored in any way according to Haugen. This is causing dangerous content, such as Ethiopian ethnic violence posts, to reach a wider audience and endangering lives.
Reshared material: Facebook’s focus on “meaningful social interactions” means users will see reshared content of their friends in its news feed feature. This is creating an echo chamber amongst communities that isn’t being monitored as it should be, with violence, misinformation, and violent content being prevalent according to Haugen.
Disgruntled staff: There’s plenty of communications in the leaks that show staff grievances against Facebook’s failure to either acknowledge the harm it generates or to properly deal with or mitigate harm. Haugen stated in the senate hearing: “Never forget the day Trump rode down the escalator in 2015, called for a ban on Muslims entering the US, we determined that it violated our policies, and yet we explicitly overrode the policy and didn’t take the video down,” wrote another. “There is a straight line that can be drawn from that day to today, one of the darkest days in the history of democracy … History will not judge us kindly.”
There is a lot more information coming out of these documents, which is a good thing for users and a good thing for a centralized business such as Facebook. More often than not, large online companies have so much control they try and get away with things that aren’t OK. Whilst we are reserving comment until the aforementioned legal action is taken against Facebook, we hope that the end result will be one that benefits the greater good for users and staff worldwide. A social media platform that gives people unbiased and informative content with the option to make up their own minds whilst taking a responsible approach to hateful and violent content is one we all deserve.