Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

As Facebook Comes Under Greater Pressure, It Is Becoming More Dangerous

Leaked internal documents show that Facebook has repeatedly prioritized profits over safety. The company will only double down on these methods as its products decline in popularity.

Juan Andrés Gallardo

October 8, 2021
Facebook Twitter Share

While the crash of Facebook-run apps dominated the news this Monday, in recent weeks the company has also been in the spotlight for leaked reports showing that it puts profit-making above all else. These actions include making changes to its algorithm that increase hateful content on the platform, and dismissing reports about Instagram’s harmful effect on teens.

This latest scandal for the social network was unleashed when a former employee, 37-year-old data scientist Frances Haugen, leaked several internal Facebook documents to the Wall Street Journal. The documents revealed to the public that the company’s private acts contradict its official narrative. Haugen, who gave an interview to CBS’s 60 Minutes this weekend, testified before the U.S. Senate on Tuesday.

The leaked documents show that Facebook executives know that the company’s platforms — Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger, in addition to its flagship social network — are, in many cases, harmful to users. The revelation that has generated the most indignation among the press and social media is that the company’s own investigations show that Instagram is especially “toxic” for teenage girls. According to the company’s reports, the photo-sharing platform exacerbates body-image issues in one in three teenage girls.

Another major revelation is that algorithm changes carried out in 2018 under the guise of “improving” the platform had the opposite result and turned it into a more negative environment, promoting provocative, hateful content that encouraged argumentation.

In her CBS interview, Haugen stated that, “There were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook. And Facebook, over and over again chose those to optimize for its own interests, like making more money.”

She further noted that Facebook is incentivizing “angry, polarizing, divisive content” because it generates more views and more engagement on the platform. “It’s easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions … Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, click on less ads, they’ll make less money,” she added.

On Tuesday, Haugen testified before the U.S. Senate Consumer Protection Subcommittee which is investigating practices at Facebook in the wake of the leaks. She criticized the extent to which Facebook, “operat[es] in the shadows, hiding its research from public scrutiny,” and highlighted the disproportionate control exerted by CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The solution to the crisis, according to Haugen, is to “break out of previous regulatory frames”; in other words, stricter regulation of social media platforms. 

Facebook released a statement after the hearing to try to cast doubt on Haugen’s testimony, claiming that she was not privy to senior executives’ decision-making process. However, the company said that it agreed that “it’s time to create standard rules for the internet,” and that “instead of expecting the industry to make societal decisions that belong to legislators, it’s time for Congress to act.” 

Senior Facebook executives have already testified several times before Congress — seven times in four years, for Zuckerberg — and have always staunchly defended the company. The leaked documents could reveal inconsistencies or contradictions with those testimonies. If it were proven that Facebook executives lied or deliberately withheld information from Congress, could be found guilty of perjury.

Facebook has responded evasively to the Wall Street Journal’s allegations and has done so not through its senior figures but through its “strategic response team.” First, they said the research data was incorrect and out of context, which infuriated the company’s own analysts who had worked on the leaked documents. They knew the information was accurate and expressed their unease within the corporate chats, which forced Facebook to backtrack.

Facebook workers were also outraged by the company’s internal response to Instagram’s harmful influence. According to the New York Times, the company said internally that it was incorrect to claim that Instagram can harm the mental health of teenage girls and that the correct thing to say is that, “Teens who have lower life satisfaction more likely to say Instagram makes their mental health or the way they feel about themselves worse than teens who are satisfied with their lives.”

Facebook has a bigger problem than Monday’s crash: the steady decline of their flagship product. This will drive them to double down on any method that enables them to maximize profits regardless of the consequences on the platform’s users.

As a New York Times columnist points out, Facebook use among U.S. teens has been declining for years, and internal research has predicted a 45-percent drop by 2023. Although Instagram’s growth offset this declining interest, Instagram, too, is losing market share, particularly to faster-growing rivals like TikTok and Snapchat. Against this backdrop, the company has been focusing on ways to appeal to kids and preteens, calling them a “valuable but untapped audience.”

This decline does not mean that Facebook will go under overnight. However, a company of its size, which handles billions of people’s sensitive data in a non-transparent manner, to say the least, and which privileges its profits above all else, is a potential danger. A danger that, as the reports show, is already hurting people, and will get even worse as its applications become less profitable.

Originally published in Spanish on October 4 in La Izquierda Diario.

Translated and updated by Otto Fors

Facebook Twitter Share

Juan Andrés Gallardo

Juan is a journalist from Buenos Aires and the editor of the international section of our Argentinian sister site La Izquierda Diario.

Twitter

United States

Activists in Detroit speaking at a press conference condemning repression of the pro-Palestine movement on May 20, 2024.

Detroit Activists Hold Press Conference to Condemn Repression of Pro-Palestine Protesters

Detroit Will Breathe organized a press conference to discuss the police violence and repression against pro-Palestine protesters. The movement must stand in solidarity and unite to combat the increase of repression.

Kyle Thibodeau

May 23, 2024
Protesters carrying Palestinian flags march on a street in front of a line of cops

Activists, Including Left Voice and Detroit Will Breathe Members, Arrested at Protest of Biden in Detroit, Free All Arrested and Drop All Charges

Detroit police brutally arrested activists who were protesting outside of Biden's speech to the NAACP.

Left Voice

May 19, 2024
Tents at the Rutgers University in NJ during the Palestine encampment in May, 2024

What the Movement for Palestine Can Learn from the Rutgers Encampment Deal

The Gaza solidarity encampment at Rutgers New Brunswick ended in a deal between the administration and a negotiations team at the camp. It’s been a highly controversial decision. The experience at Rutgers shows the need for a truly democratic, bottom-up fight for Palestine.

Jason Koslowski

May 17, 2024
Pro-Palestine encampment at UCLA in May, 2024.

“The Working Class has the Power to Stop this Genocide”: Interview with a UAW 4811 Rank and Filer

On Thursday May 15, 48,000 UAW Academic workers voted to authorize a strike, the largest academic workers union in the country to do so. Left Voice interviewed UAW 4811 member Peter Ross about what sparked this historic vote, and the labor movement’s fight for Palestine

Julia Wallace

May 16, 2024

MOST RECENT

Why Won’t PSC-CUNY Stand with Palestine Now?

While other higher education unions are going on strike in defense of their workers and against the genocide in Gaza, the bureaucratic leadership of PSC-CUNY just crushed a resolution calling on the university to divest from Israel and to drop the charges against Palestinian activists arrested on April 30. 

James Dennis Hoff

May 24, 2024

Attack on Pro-Palestinian Protestors at UMich Latest Example of Democrats Defending Israel’s Genocide in Gaza

Capitalist apologists from the Democratic Party have chosen their business partners in Israel’s far-right government over Palestinian lives. In Ann Arbor, those same so-called “progressive” Democrats decided to bring felony charges against protestors earlier this week, encouraging harsh police violence against the University of Michigan encampment.

Ryan McCarty

May 24, 2024
A sign for the University of California at Santa Cruz with a line of UAW signs in front of it

Dispatch from Day One of the UC Santa Cruz Picket Line for Palestine

Left Voice member and City University of New York worker Olivia traveled to Santa Cruz for UAW 4811’s historic strike to talk to workers. This is her dispatch from the first day of the strike.

Olivia Wood

May 22, 2024

CUNY Workers Should Support the Five Demands of the Student Encampment

As the PSC CUNY Delegate Assembly prepares to debate a vote to endorse the five demands of the CCNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment, some members of CUNY on Strike penned the following rebuttal to the bureaucratic union leadership that has been trying to distance itself from the struggle against the genocide in Gaza.