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Media Blasts Facebook For Failing To Police Its Platform

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Ailan Evans Tech Reporter
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  • Over a dozen media outlets have published stories since Friday based on leaked internal Facebook documents provided by former employee Frances Haugen, with many articles presenting the tech giant’s failure to censor enough content and police its platform as a serious problem.
  • Politico published several stories based on the leaks, with one story including an internal message from a Facebook researcher alleging they were “actively held back” by company executives when they attempted to remove content calling the results of the 2020 presidential election into question.
  • The Atlantic published a story also based on internal communications by employees expressing frustration at Facebook executives for failing to implement their proposals, with one employee deploring the fact that executives weren’t allowing researchers to “manage discourse without enabling violence.”
  • A leaked internal memo sent by Vice President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg and obtained by Axios warned that the media’s reporting on the leaks would “contain mischaracterizations of our research, our motives and where our priorities lie.”

Over a dozen media outlets have published stories since Friday based on leaked internal Facebook documents provided by former employee Frances Haugen, with many articles presenting the tech giant’s failure to censor enough content and police its platform as a serious problem.

CNN released a piece framing the leaked documents as presenting a “damning picture” of Facebook’s role in the Jan. 6 riots. The article highlights decisions made by Facebook executives, including Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, overriding suggestions by researchers who wanted to do more to stop the spread of “misinformation” on the platform.

NBC News published an article based on leaked communications as well as interviews with current and former Facebook employees documenting the divide between researchers and Facebook executives on how to handle “disinformation” and “hate speech,” especially surrounding the Jan. 6 riots. The story documented testimony from researchers angry that Facebook wasn’t implementing their solutions and pursuing as aggressive a content moderation policy as they would have liked

One story by The Washington Post highlights a project by Facebook researchers who created a dummy account of a 21-year-old woman in India and tracked what she saw on her newsfeed. The account was exposed to anti-Muslim rhetoric, including a post referencing dead bodies of alleged terrorists that read “300 dogs died now say long live India, death to Pakistan.”(RELATED: Facebook’s Whistleblower Could Be The Best Thing To Ever Happen To Big Tech)

Another piece by the Post takes a critical angle towards decisions made by Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg regarding how to moderate and police content on Facebook. The report includes documents which show, among other things, that Zuckerberg elected not to limit “reshares” of posts, a strategy suggested by researchers to combat COVID-19 misinformation.

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen testified on Capitol Hill this week about how Facebook allegedly drives divisive and false narratives to maximize its profits. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen testified on Capitol Hill this week about how Facebook allegedly drives divisive and false narratives to maximize its profits. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Politico published several stories based on the leaks, with one story including an internal message from a Facebook researcher alleging they were “actively held back” by company executives when they attempted to remove content calling the results of the 2020 presidential election into question. The story presented Facebook as lacking a clear playbook for how to deal with false election claims as well as lacking policies explicitly outlawing claims questioning the election results, characterizing the content as “dangerous.”

Another Politico story characterized Facebook’s purported lax content moderation policies in violent Middle Eastern and North African countries as negligent, deploring the spread of propaganda on the site from Islamic militants. A third Politico article titled “’This is NOT normal’: Facebook employees vent their anguish” documented messages posted to Facebook’s internal message boards demanding more action be taken against misinformation, with several employees wishing the company took a more active and editorial role in controlling what content it showed users.

The Atlantic published a story also based on internal communications by employees expressing frustration at Facebook executives for failing to implement their proposals, with one employee deploring the fact that executives weren’t allowing researchers to “manage discourse without enabling violence.” Another employee deplored Facebook’s failure to remove content before the Jan. 6 riots, decrying that “history will not judge us kindly.”

The Wall Street Journal, the first outlet to report on the Facebook leaks, published an article Sunday alleging how Facebook researchers attempted to force conservative news site Breitbart off its News Tab, and the steps they took to reportedly suppress content from the site. The article suggests that lower-level Facebook employees often agitated for more aggressive censorship of conservative content, while executives opted for less aggressive moderation.

“At the heart of these stories is a premise which is false. Yes, we’re a business and we make profit, but the idea that we do so at the expense of people’s safety or wellbeing misunderstands where our own commercial interests lie,” a Facebook spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “The truth is we’ve invested $13 billion and have over 40,000 people to do one job: keep people safe on Facebook.”

A leaked internal memo sent by Vice President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg and obtained by Axios warned that the media’s reporting on the leaks would “contain mischaracterizations of our research, our motives and where our priorities lie.”

The tech giant has been at the center of multiple legal battles in recent weeks, with the Washington, D.C., attorney general adding Mark Zuckerberg to a lawsuit alleging Facebook allowed companies to harvest user data. Several complaints filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission also allege Facebook misled investors about its business practices.

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