Tech

Facebook Accuses Critics Of ‘Cherry-Picking’ After Leaks Spark Outrage, Senate Probe

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Ailan Evans Tech Reporter
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  • Facebook accused critics of mischaracterizing its policies Saturday, following an investigation of leaked internal documents by The Wall Street Journal that prompted outrage and congressional scrutiny.
  • “At the heart of this series is an allegation that is just plain false: that Facebook conducts research and then systematically and willfully ignores it if the findings are inconvenient for the company,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, wrote in a blog post Saturday.
  • One article published Tuesday by the WSJ detailed Facebook’s knowledge of the harmful impacts its subsidiary Instagram has on users, especially teen girls.
  • “It is clear that Facebook is incapable of holding itself accountable. The Wall Street Journal’s reporting reveals Facebook’s leadership to be focused on a growth-at-all-costs mindset that valued profits over the health and lives of children and teens,” Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Richard Blumenthal wrote when announcing their investigation into the tech company.

Facebook accused critics of mischaracterizing its policies Saturday, following an investigation of leaked internal documents by The Wall Street Journal that prompted outrage and congressional scrutiny.

“At the heart of this series is an allegation that is just plain false: that Facebook conducts research and then systematically and willfully ignores it if the findings are inconvenient for the company,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, wrote in a blog post Saturday. (RELATED: Facebook Says They Helped 175 Afghans, Including Employees And Journalists, Evacuate To Mexico)

Clegg’s comments come in response to the WSJ investigation revealing Facebook’s knowledge of how its platform negatively affects users. Clegg argued that the investigation was framed to portray Facebook as attempting to conceal controversial or unpopular research findings and practices and that the WSJ’s reporting  “conferred egregiously false motives to Facebook’s leadership and employees.”

“It’s a claim which could only be made by cherry-picking selective quotes from individual pieces of leaked material in a way that presents complex and nuanced issues as if there is only ever one right answer,” Clegg wrote.

The WSJ’s investigation unearthed a number of controversial policies, including the existence of a system that exempts popular or celebrity accounts from moderation protocols. The investigation also found that Facebook is aware its newsfeed algorithm promotes incendiary and often misleading content and that the platform is frequently exploited by drug cartels and human traffickers to facilitate crimes.

One article published Tuesday by the WSJ detailed Facebook’s knowledge of the harmful impacts its subsidiary Instagram has on users, especially teen girls. The investigation found Facebook researched how Instagram contributed to feelings of ugliness and unworthiness in users, as well as feelings of addiction and body image issues. (RELATED: Facebook Disables Accounts Of NYU Research Project It Claims Violated User Privacy)

In response to the article Tuesday, Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut announced a bipartisan investigation into Facebook’s knowledge of how its platform negatively impacts the self-esteem of teenage users. The senators said that they were in touch with a Facebook whistle-blower and were examining the tech giant’s actions taken to address Instagram’s effects on young users.

“It is clear that Facebook is incapable of holding itself accountable. The Wall Street Journal’s reporting reveals Facebook’s leadership to be focused on a growth-at-all-costs mindset that valued profits over the health and lives of children and teens,” the Senators said.

Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, along with Democratic Reps. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts and Kathy Castor of Florida, sent a letter to Facebook’s Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg last week demanding that Facebook abandon plans to develop a version of Instagram geared towards children.

“Children and teens are uniquely vulnerable populations online, and these findings paint a clear and devastating picture of Instagram as an app that poses significant threats to young people’s well-being,” the lawmakers wrote.

Republican Rep. Ken Buck compared the tech giant to the tobacco industry in a tweet Saturday, saying “they are harming our kids for profit.”

Clegg disputed the lawmakers’ characterization that Facebook ignores its own research for the sake of profit, arguing the company is committed to finding the correct solutions to address its platform’s problems. (RELATED: US Files New Complaint Against Facebook Over Monopoly Concerns)

“With any research, there will be ideas for improvement that are effective to pursue and ideas where the tradeoffs against other important considerations are worse than the proposed fix,” Clegg wrote. “At the same time, none of these issues can be solved by technology companies alone, which is why we work in close partnership with researchers, regulators, policymakers and others.”

The WSJ’s investigation follows months of White House pressure on Facebook over the tech giant’s handling of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. President Joe Biden declared the social media company was “killing people” in July, while Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced the White House was flagging posts it deems misleading for Facebook to remove.

Facebook was also under fire in August for its perceived lack of transparency regarding what content is most popular on its platform, delaying the release of a transparency report and refusing to hand over data to the White House’s coronavirus team.

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