In what’s been a difficult interval for Fb, wherein it has been confronted with varied points associated to political misinformation, conspiracy theories, anti-vax content, hate speech, management of its moderation staff, questions round regional data restrictions, antitrust investigations, and extra. Inside this, and amid the continued restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fb has continued to implement new measures and programs to fight its most urgent points, as greatest it may possibly.
However has it finished sufficient? And as extra of those points are recognized, a key query that many at the moment are asking is: ‘Is Fb good for society?’
The reply, more and more, appears to be no, however in what could also be a extra telling perception, a recent internal survey at The Social Community discovered that the corporate’s personal employees, who’ve usually been optimistic in regards to the platform’s impression, at the moment are starting to boost extra questions on its broader results.
As reported by BuzzFeed News:
“[Facebook’s] semi-annual “Pulse Survey,” taken by greater than 49,000 workers over two weeks in October, confirmed employees felt strained by workplace shutdowns and have been persevering with to lose religion that the corporate was bettering the world. Solely 51% of respondents stated they believed that Fb was having a optimistic impression on the world, down 23 proportion factors from the corporate’s final survey in Could and down 5.5 proportion factors from the identical interval final yr.”
That is a big drop, and whereas, as famous, that has been declining for a while, the numbers present that even these inside Fb, with intimate data of not solely the selections made, however why they have been carried out, at the moment are questioning the corporate’s true motivations.
Hints on the similar have been slowly leaking from the corporate over the previous yr – again in September, Fb engineer Ashok Chandwaney quit the company over its failure to handle issues round racism, disinformation and incitements to violence on the platform.
“Fb is selecting to be on the flawed facet of historical past,” Chandwaney famous in an open letter saying his choice.
Numerous different Fb staffers have also quit citing issues over the corporate’s coverage selections, whereas former Fb director of monetization Tim Kendall, in testimony before Congress, highlighted important flaws within the firm’s motivations and method, noting that:
“Facebook and their cohorts worship on the altar of engagement and solid all different issues apart, elevating the voices of division, anger, hate and misinformation to drown out the voices of fact, justice, morality, and peace.”
Which has been one of many key issues leveled at Fb, that it has no actual curiosity in cracking down on harmful and divisive hate speech as a result of it sparks debate and interplay, and that engagement is what retains folks coming again.
Even when they’re offended. Even when such spills over into real-world incidents.
And there are clear examples of this – take QAnon, for instance, a harmful group of conspiracy spreading peddlers of misinformation, of assorted types, which have for years been linked to quite a few circumstances of real-world violence. An inside investigation performed by Fb earlier this yr, and leaked by NBC News, discovered that the platform had offered a house for hundreds of QAnon teams and Pages, with hundreds of thousands of members and followers.
Consultants had been warning Fb about QAnon and the dangers it posed since 2016, however solely now, solely final month, did Fb lastly act and take steps to eliminate QAnon completely from its networks.
Why did it take so lengthy? The warnings have been there for years, however Fb refused to behave.
Anti-vaxxers, too, have been a famous concern on Fb for a very long time, with The Social Community lastly starting to take stronger motion towards such in March last year. Hate speech on the platform is one other main problem, which sparked the July Facebook ad boycott, lead by civil rights leaders. To this point, Fb has refused to replace its insurance policies round such.
Given the assorted concerns, it is tough to conclude something apart from Fb refuses to take motion as a result of it earnings from engagement.
Certainly, in his additional feedback to Congress, Kendall said that:
“There isn’t any incentive to cease [toxic content] and there is unbelievable incentive to maintain going and get higher. I simply do not imagine that is going to alter until there are monetary, civil, or legal penalties related to the hurt that they create. With out enforcement, they’re simply going to proceed to be embarrassed by the errors, they usually’ll speak about empty platitudes… however I do not imagine something systemic will change… the incentives to maintain the established order are simply too profitable in the mean time.”
Engagement, says Kendall, drives all selections at Fb, without any consideration for the potential harms prompted. Certainly, Fb CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly famous that he would like the corporate to not make moderation selections, as an alternative letting its customers resolve what’s acceptable, beneath the umbrella of free speech.
As per Zuckerberg’s speech to Georgetown College in October last year:
“I imagine in giving folks a voice as a result of, on the finish of the day, I imagine in folks. And so long as sufficient of us preserve preventing for this, I imagine that extra folks’s voices will ultimately assist us work by these points collectively and write a brand new chapter in our historical past – the place from all of our particular person voices and views, we are able to deliver the world nearer collectively.”
Which highlights the flaw in Zuckerberg’s method, that he errs on the facet of optimism, versus trying on the actuality.
Is that due to Zuckerberg’s said perception in free expression, or is it as a result of Fb, his firm, advantages from the identical?
For its half, Fb has repeatedly trotted out the road ‘we do not benefit from hate‘.
However is that true? And while you have a look at these varied components and issues on steadiness, ought to Fb be doing extra to handle such issues?
Is Fb good for society?
It appears to be a key query which is able to see much more scrutiny, as soon as once more, within the wake of the US Election. However clearly, even these concerned within the firm’s selections are beginning to ponder its broader impacts.