Facebook’s social balance is in the red


Facebook is essential to our lives. Facebook is ruining our lives. Holding these two truths together will hurt your head.

Covering the Olympic Games in Tokyo, I spent a ton of time on Facebook. Every day, during the several hours of the bus ride, I saw who was online in Messenger and shared photos and stories with my family and friends. I also posted frequently on my news feed.

  • I can’t count how many people have told me that their favorite part of the Olympic experience is living vicariously through my posts, photos and social media posts.

Yes, but: For all of Facebook’s benefits, and there are many, telltale reports continue to accumulate stronger evidence of its wrongdoing.

  • The same Facebook that makes it easy to share photos and stories from the Olympics also makes it easy to spread lies and half-truths that go deeper and faster thanks to the company’s powerful algorithms and wide reach.

Driving the news: Thanks to a multipart Wall Street Journal Series this week we learned:

  • Changes Facebook instituted in 2018 to lower the dial on contentious policies in people flows had the opposite effect, driving extreme views instead.
  • A system called XCheck, object of Monday’s story in the Journal series, has placed millions of prominent users in a VIP level that has allowed them to break Facebook’s rules with little to no consequences, leaving the door wide open for the dissemination of harmful content.
  • The Journal also reported how harmful Instagram can be for young girls – a huge issue that comes as the company continues to weigh a separate version of the photo and video service aimed directly at those under the age of 18.
  • Another detailed Thursday Journal article inadequate responses to illegal content drug trafficking gangs in Mexico, groups inciting ethnic violence in Ethiopia, and human traffickers supplying domestic workers to Persian Gulf countries. “Most of our great integrity work over the past 2 years is not working in much of the world,” a Facebook reviewer reported.

The big picture: While some of these challenges are specific to Facebook, similar issues plague YouTube, Twitter, and other platforms as well.

To note : These stories were mainly based on internal reports and documents written by Facebook employees who sounded the alarm bells.

  • Facebook argued that the information in the Journal is out of date and that the company has taken many steps to mitigate each problem.

That much, however, much of the public and media do not take the company at its word and trust it to be transparent.

  • Somewhere inside Facebook right now, people are undoubtedly writing timely reports on its current issues. If we’re lucky, maybe someone will disclose them in 2024.

What they say : Instagram chief Adam Mosseri speaking on the Recode podcast, compared the social impact of Facebook to that of the automobile: “Anything that is going to be used on a large scale will have positive and negative results. Cars have positive and negative results.

  • Many on Twitter have taken to Mosseri to point out how regulated cars are. But Facebook frequently notes its support for updating and expanding internet regulations, as Mosseri did in his interview.
  • More important, perhaps, is how automobiles and social media provide convenience to users and benefits to their manufacturers while getting rid of their biggest damage – global warming carbon emissions, democracy-eroding disinformation. – for governments and society.

Between the lines: Facebook continues to grow globally, but US numbers for Facebook’s main product have stagnated and it is losing ground among young people.

For many, the powerful human connections the service establishes no longer outweigh the myriad of ways Facebook undermines society – by promoting medical misinformation, political extremism, teenage self-harm, and even collective violence in countries halfway around the world from the company’s headquarters.

Facebook is right to note that these problems predate the existence of the social network, and that it is not the only one responsible for social divisions. But he is accountable to society for what happens on his platform. If it fails to regain the trust of the public and public institutions, it will face new investigations, rules and sanctions – in addition to a ton already underway.

And after: The Journal’s reports have already sparked letters from Congress, and the documents revealed by the stories could give Federal Trade Commission investigators more ammunition for the cases they are pursuing.

Our thought bubble: Letters and Commission Hearings Won’t Change Facebook. Laws and enforcement could, but only if they are bold – and if they can avoid the kind of unintended consequences that continue to stumble Facebook itself.

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