UPDATED 23:12 EST / OCTOBER 25 2021


‘Facebook Papers’ add up to the social media giant’s biggest challenge yet

A number of U.S. news organizations over the weekend began publishing stories related to thousands of internal Facebook Inc. documents, and they just keep on coming.

What the documents reveal is not exactly news that comes out of the blue. They are the basis of the complaints that Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen made to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and to Congress. This is the first time, though, that news media saw the entirety of the complaints, albeit with parts redacted.

After reading the papers, one of the biggest criticisms leveled at the company is that Facebook could have done more to prevent the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6. After it happened, Facebook told news media that it had done everything in its power to stop violence from occurring, although the documents suggest the company could have done more.

“Haven’t we had enough time to figure out how to manage discourse without enabling violence?” an employee said on an internal message board at the time, highlighting discord in the company. The employee added, “We’ve been fueling this fire for a long time and we shouldn’t be surprised it’s now out of control.”

Facebook did ban former president Donald Trump from the platform and also cracked down on “Stop the Steal” content, but it seems some staff thought this all came a little too late. One person wrote, “I came here hoping to effect change and improve society, but all I’ve seen is atrophy and abdication of responsibility.”

The documents also show that the company might have misled its Oversight Board, the board responsible for moderating Facebook’s moderation. Facebook wasn’t transparent in regard to its VIP moderating system known as “X-Check,” which led Haugen to suggest the board wasn’t much more than a name.

“If Facebook can come in there and just actively mislead the Oversight Board, which is what they did, I don’t know what the purpose of the oversight board is,” Haugen said. Since then, the board has been critical of Facebook, saying the company might be “ambivalent” about moderation in the face of letting things run their course.

The documents expose something else Facebook is struggling with at the moment, not related to any great issues of our time. That is that the platform is losing its younger users. One researcher at the company wrote, “Increasingly fewer teens are choosing Facebook as they grow older.”

Other documents show that Facebook has tried to address this, talking at times about getting younger folks in the “pipeline,” which means attracting them while young with other apps. That sounds almost like drug pushing, a perception that’s one reason why Facebook hasn’t been able to bring out its Instagram Kids app.

“Good-faith criticism helps us get better, but my view is that we are seeing a coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to paint a false picture of our company,” said Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg today while talking on the company’s quarterly earnings call. “The reality is that we have an open culture that encourages discussion and research on our work so we can make progress on many complex issues that are not specific just to us.”

Photo: Alex Haney/Unsplash

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