It’s safe to say Facebook has made its fair share of blunders in recent months. In fact, it’s been quite difficult to keep up and we wouldn’t want them to get lost amidst the recent influx of (non-Facebook) sleaze scandals and climate change doom-mongering that’s been hogging the news agenda.
Fortunately, we’ve been paying close attention. We’ve been collecting a dossier of Facebook failings and flailings, all of which we dissect in glorious and gory detail:
The Facebook Files
It all started back in September, with the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) exposing a series of leaked slides from Facebook HQ. These brought damning evidence of neglect to light. They revealed that not only did Instagram make a smorgasbord of mental health problems significantly worse for a significant portion of teenage users, but Facebook was fully aware of this and wasn’t doing anything about it.
In fact, it was Facebook’s OWN data that revealed a third of teenage girls claim Instagram made them feel worse about their own bodies. Even more terrifying was that 13% of UK teens said they could retrace suicidal thoughts back to the platform.
So… not a great look for the House of Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg, of course, denied everything. According to them, the WSJ was only shining a light on the data that made the company look bad!
A few weeks later, Facebook finally released the slidedeck in full. It made for an interesting case study in slicing data, whilst the WSJ use of the statistics was technically correct, Facebook’s assertions that the platform makes the majority of issues better for its teen users were also true.
No matter which way you look at it, this exposé was the catalyst for the barrage of Facebook news we’ve been seeing. WSJ wasn’t letting go, throughout September it ran a series of articles titled The Facebook Files, all just as damning as the first. They highlight everything from ignored reports of human trafficking on the platform, to Facebook’s failures in attempting to promoting COVID-19 vaccinations.
Next, Francis Haugen came along. She revealed her identity (along with the fact that she handed over the documents to the WSJ) in early October during an interview with 60 Minutes. Since then, the ex-Facebook employee has testified in front of the US Congress, MPs here in the UK, and most recently the European parliament. Her testimonies are staggering.
Since the implementation of an engagement-based algorithm, Facebook has got better at holding our attention and therefore increasing ad revenue for the platform. It’s this algorithm, and the money-driven mentality behind it, that Haugen sees as the root of the problem.
Haugen assers this algorithm, and the platform at large, is “unquestionably making hate worse”. We can see evidence of this in countries such as Myanmar and Ethiopia, where Facebook has provided a voice to those spouting hate speech and promoted offline violence which has escalated to a catastrophic level.
Even Facebook’s home country isn’t safe, with the Capitol riots of January taking place shortly after the company’s civil integrity unit was dissolved and election safety features disabled.
Though this was a blistering attack on the platform, Haugen did have some words of advice and suggested changes. Simple changes that will make hateful content less frequent, less viral, and users less likely to see it – all whilst shaving only a small percentage from Facebook’s bottom line. The solutions are as simple as switching back to a chronological feed, limiting the number of times a post can be shared, and placing a limit on the number of people allowed in a Facebook group.
The platform could have implemented these suggestions to save face, and – you know – make the world a better place. (If you were cynical) you might think perhaps in an effort to deflect some of the bad PR, it announced Meta, the new and much derided name for Facebook’s parent company.
And with this rebrand came the official announcement for the much teased ‘Metaverse’. The hour-long video emphasized an ‘embodied internet’, where we can immerse ourselves with friends and family in a variety of settings. You can host a meeting in the jungle, play cards in space, even change the view out of your virtual bedroom window.
It’s an interesting concept, one that was presented with all the charisma we’ve come to expect from Mark Zuckerberg. It certainly has the potential to revolutionise both entertainment and business, and the focus on accurate body language and facial expressions does make for a compelling selling point.
But many issues come to mind: What kind of internet connection will we need to enter the Metaverse? How much will it all cost? How will it actually be better than real life?
It’s going to be something best experienced, and Facebook knows this. It’s recently been rumoured they’ll be opening physical stores in which you can see if the Metaverse lives up to the hype. After all the flack the platform has faced, Zuckerberg really wants his association with Facebook to be a thing of the past.
Unfortunately, that’s something quite difficult to do when there is an Oscar-winning film about it all.