Regulators Move, Just Slowly Toward Facebook

October 14, 2021

Finally, after 17 years a dim light flickers on. Vox Recode reports, “It’s Getting Harder for People to Believe that Facebook Is a Net Good for Society.” Though experts have been sounding the alarm for years, Facebook has insisted its ability to bring folks together far outweighs any damage perpetuated by its platforms. Now, though, more people are challenging that defense. Writer Shirin Ghaffary tells us:

“A new series of reports from the Wall Street Journal, “The Facebook Files,” provides damning evidence that Facebook has studied and long known that its products cause measurable, real-world harm — including on teenagers’ mental health — and then stifled that research while denying and downplaying that harm to the public. The revelations, which only strengthen the case that a growing chorus of lawmakers and regulators have been making for breaking up Facebook or otherwise severely limiting its power as a social media giant, could represent a turning point for the company. Already, the Journal’s reporting has prompted consequences for Facebook: A bipartisan Senate committee is investigating [Facebook-owned] Instagram’s impact on teenagers, and a group of legislators led by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) is calling for Facebook to halt all development of its Instagram for Kids product for children under 13, which BuzzFeed News first revealed the company was developing in March.”

Ghaffary reminds us the wheels of government turn slowly and, often, to little effect. The investigations are in early stages and may not lead to any real changes or meaningful consequences. At least some politicians are more willing to question Facebook about the harm it causes, as some did at recent Congressional hearings. Unfortunately, Facebook is inclined to withhold damaging information even at the request of elected officials. We learn:

“When Rep. Rodgers and other Republicans followed up with Facebook and asked about the company’s internal research on the effects of its products on mental health, the company did not share the Instagram research results, according to Bloomberg, nor did it share them with Sen. Ed Markey when his office also asked Facebook to provide any internal research on the matter in April, according to letters provided by Markey’s office to Recode.”

But wait, there’s more. The Journal’s reporting also reveals the company’s VIP program, through which certain celebrities and politicians can break its rules (such as they are). It also shows that, in 2018, Facebook modified its algorithm to encourage the sharing of angrier content. Anything to generate traffic and revenues, whatever the consequences, it seems.

Cynthia Murrell, October 14, 2021

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