WSJ Pummels Facebook With "The Facebook Files" [Content Made Simple]

Issue #238: Inside the Facebook algorithm, special VIP protections, and more.

Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls



For the past three years, Facebook has been conducting studies into how its photo-sharing app affects its millions of young users. Repeatedly, the company’s researchers found that Instagram is harmful for a sizable percentage of them, most notably teenage girls.

“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” said one slide from 2019, summarizing research about teen girls who experience the issues.

“Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” said another slide. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”


The Wall Street Journal is in the midst of publishing a series of articles this week that have all been pummeling Facebook with PR nightmare after PR nightmare with information straight from internal Facebook memos, emails, and other documents. This article, detailing how Facebook has evidence from internal research that Instagram is harmful for young girls (and teens generally), is especially hard to read. People seriously make fun of me for being so anti-Facebook, but guys, you gotta not ignore stuff like this. It is withering and sad and, I think, genuinely evil. You can see all of the stories in the WSJ’s “Facebook Files” series here.


Link #1: Facebook Tried to Make Its Platform a Healthier Place. It Got Angrier Instead.

This is probably the most interesting of the WSJ Facebook Files articles that has been released so far. Some of the nitty-gritty inner workings of the FB algorithm, and interactions between two titans of our digital age: Jonah Peretti and Mark Zuckerberg. Sorta like the Vanderbilt and Rockefeller of the social internet.

Buzzfeed’s Mr. Peretti, in his email, wrote that the new algorithm seemed to be disproportionately rewarding divisiveness, based on what the publisher saw in its own numbers and his observations about how other publishers’ posts performed.

“MSI ranking isn’t actually rewarding content that drives meaningful social interactions,” Mr. Peretti wrote in his email to the Facebook official, adding that his staff felt “pressure to make bad content or underperform.”

It wasn’t just material that exploited racial divisions, he wrote, but also “fad/junky science,” “extremely disturbing news” and gross images.

Link #2: Facebook Says Its Rules Apply to All. Company Documents Reveal a Secret Elite That’s Exempt.

Just great reporting here in what was the first of the Facebook Files posted by WSJ on Monday.

Mark Zuckerberg has publicly said Facebook Inc. allows its more than three billion users to speak on equal footing with the elites of politics, culture and journalism, and that its standards of behavior apply to everyone, no matter their status or fame.

In private, the company has built a system that has exempted high-profile users from some or all of its rules, according to company documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The program, known as “cross check” or “XCheck,” was initially intended as a quality-control measure for actions taken against high-profile accounts, including celebrities, politicians and journalists. Today, it shields millions of VIP users from the company’s normal enforcement process, the documents show. Some users are “whitelisted”—rendered immune from enforcement actions—while others are allowed to post rule-violating material pending Facebook employee reviews that often never come.

Link #3: The Scrolling Soul

Very good piece from Jeff Mingee at TGC this week.

Neil Postman warned us, in his final chapter of Amusing Ourselves to Death: “There are two ways by which the spirit of a culture may be shriveled. In the first—the Orwellian—culture becomes a prison. In the second—the Huxleyan—culture becomes a burlesque.”

Our digital age seduces us into the burlesque. The red-light district beckons us from our blue-light screens. Notifications, pop-up ads, and the endless possibilities of life online welcome you in.

We can shop for whatever we want. We can study any subject we desire. We can gaze at any object accessible through a search bar. And yet U2’s song still rings true: we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.


If you like this, you should subscribe to my free newsletter of funny content I find online. It’s called The Funnies. It delivers on Saturday mornings.

You can subscribe to The Funnies here. (It is and will always be free.)