The Facebook Papers [Content Made Simple]
Issue #244: The Facebook Papers present the social media giant's biggest crisis ever. Let's take a peek.
TOP OF THE WEEK:
Monday morning's news drop was a doozy. There was story after story about the goings-on inside Facebook, thanks to thousands of leaked documents from Frances Haugen, the whistleblower who wants the information within those files to spread far and wide. Haugen is also set to speak in front of the British Parliament on Monday, continuing the story that is becoming known as The Facebook Papers.
I have been incredibly busy this week with work stuff and real-life activities, so I have still only read a few of the more than 50 articles that were published around the Facebook Papers on Monday.
Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower who testified before a Congressional subcommittee a couple of weeks ago provided tens of thousands of internal documents to the Wall Street Journal months ago, giving them the first taste of what was going on inside Facebook because she believes they have violated securities laws.
Then, after the WSJ ran their series of articles toward the end of September and Haugen testified before the Congressional subcommittee, she organized a consortium of journalists from about 17 reputable outlets (NYT, WIRED, WaPo, AP, the Verge, others), and provided them all access to the same documents she previously provided exclusively to the WSJ. She thought there was more to be written that the WSJ didn’t fully cover. And was she ever right!
I am in a Discord server with a dozen or more of the reporters who had access to the documents the last few weeks. Casey Newton of Platformer, one of the most well-respected social media journalists on the planet, said in that chatroom, “More will come every weekday for about six weeks.” Here it is, you can read it for yourself:
So, this situation is far from over, and I’ll be writing on it at least next week, and possibly for a few weeks to come. I apologize for the Facebook-heavy nature in advance, but this is seriously one of the biggest social media events in social media history, so I’ll be spending time reading every article and figuring out what to distill for you all. :-)
HITTING THE LINKS
Ben Smith, former editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed, is the media reporter at the New York Times. If you’re wondering how all this happened beyond what I wrote above, you will find his piece insightful.
“The reason I wanted to do this project is because I think the global South is in danger,” she said.
With this model, Ms. Haugen and her advisers have created a new kind of journalistic network, one that has stirred mixed feelings among the journalists involved. In the last two weeks they have gathered on the messaging app Slack to coordinate their plans — and the name of their Slack group, chosen by Adrienne LaFrance, the executive editor of The Atlantic, suggests their ambivalence: “Apparently We’re a Consortium Now.”
If there’s any bright spot for Facebook in all of this, it’s that many of the findings from the papers make it darn near impossible to say they have a monopoly on social media. There is endless documentation and hand-wringing about how Facebook is hemorrhaging young people. Here’s a piece on that.
Facebook’s struggle to attract users under the age of 30 has been ongoing for years, dating back to as early as 2012. But according to the documents, the problem has grown more severe recently. And the stakes are high. While it famously started as a networking site for college students, employees have predicted that the aging up of the app’s audience — now nearly 2 billion daily users — has the potential to further alienate young people, cutting off future generations and putting a ceiling on future growth.
The problem explains why the company has taken such a keen interest in courting young people and even pre-teens to its main app and Instagram, spinning up dedicated youth teams to cater to them. In 2017, it debuted a standalone Messenger app for kids, and its plans for a version of Instagram for kids were recently shelved after lawmakers decried the initiative.
Frances Haugen, the FB whistleblower, has said repeatedly that one of her biggest concerns is that, as bad as Facebook often works in the U.S., we in the West are getting the best version of Facebook. The company has absolutely zero control of its tools in other parts of the world, especially the global South. This is a global problem and, arguably, a wealth problem. Fascinating piece here on that angle.
In many of the world’s most fragile nations, a company worth hundreds of billions of dollars hasn’t invested enough in the language- and dialect-specific artificial intelligence and staffing it needs to address these problems. Indeed, last year, according to the documents, only 13 percent of Facebook’s misinformation-moderation staff hours were devoted to the non-U.S. countries in which it operates, whose populations comprise more than 90 percent of Facebook’s users. (Facebook declined to tell me how many countries it has users in.) And although Facebook users post in at least 160 languages, the company has built robust AI detection in only a fraction of those languages, the ones spoken in large, high-profile markets such as the U.S. and Europe—a choice, the documents show, that means problematic content is seldom detected.
THE FUNNY PART
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