What’s happening now? A trove of documents obtained by CNN and 16 other news organizations shed light on new details about how Facebook allowed misinformation to be pushed before the 2020 election and may have helped spark the January 6 insurrection, and whose profit motive is directly tied to keeping people engaged on its site, even when the content is dangerous.
Are these documents new? Yes and no. They are the basis for Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s complaints to the US Securities and Exchange Commission about the company. Her attorney provided the documents, which are redacted, to the SEC and Congress as part of those complaints. The redacted versions were obtained by the consortium of news organizations.
Why are we talking about this now? Previously, the Wall Street Journal wrote a series of reports on Haugen’s complaints and these documents, many of which are internal reports by Facebook about the harm it causes. Haugen, a former product manager at the company, described the documents during her media debut in early October as an activist for public oversight of tech companies.
What’s happening now is that journalists have access to the redacted documents. Haugen testified before the UK Parliament on Monday, alongside the Facebook Papers release.
What have we learned from these documents? A lot. These are some of the headlines from the Facebook Papers that CNN published in the past few days:
What does Facebook say? CEO Mark Zuckerberg kicked off Facebook’s quarterly earnings call by addressing the latest wave of coverage on Monday.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Is this scandal having an effect on Facebook? Yes. For starters, investors are already wary of the social media company.
La Monica adds there’s no indication that advertisers will suddenly pull ads off Facebook, and most stock analysts predict the stock will go higher, not lower. He writes, “… unless Facebook customers and users show they truly have had enough — in a manner that impacts ad revenue, earnings and the stock price in a much more meaningful way — then there may be little incentive for Facebook to change its stripes.”
Will Facebook regulate itself? Facebook appointed its own independent Oversight Board, a sort of Supreme Court for content decisions. They’re the ones who recommended not letting Trump return to the platform, for instance.
Facebook has actually asked Congress to rewrite US policies governing big tech companies since the rules date back a quarter century, before everyone’s day-to-day life was changed by the internet.
I have not seen an in-depth proposal with much support in the US. For as much as this is a problem many people agree needs to be addressed, it feels very much like we’re at the beginning of the conversation.
The danger of the government regulating speech. Freedom of speech is the first thing guaranteed in the US Bill of Rights, and protecting it, even when it is distasteful or wrong, is sacrosanct in this country, where people can and should be able to say what they want.
Nossel cautioned that the openness of the platform is an important thing to maintain:
“I don’t want Facebook to just wipe content out without any explanation. I want people to have a recourse if they believe their ability to express themselves has been unjustifiably impaired.”
Rather than the spreading of misinformation, the gripe of many, particularly conservative pundits and politicians, is that Facebook’s moderators unduly target conservative voices and accounts.
Outright lies that go viral also hurt society. There’s a difference between simply saying something that’s wrong and having it amplified across the country and the world. A very large portion of the GOP doesn’t think Joe Biden won the presidential election, for instance. That’s a danger to democracy.