In a series of articles published by the Wall Street Journal called “The Facebook Files,” journalist Jeff Horwitz and others uncover internal reports from the company, detailing awareness of multiple harmful policies and practices within Facebook that have not stopped. New information on Facebook’s “XCheck” system –meant to regulate harmful content– reveals that the company kept certain politicians, celebrities, athletes and others on a so called “whitelist” and made them immune to regulations under the platform’s terms and conditions. The reports also features Facebook’s knowledge of the negative effects Instagram (owned by Facebook) has on people’s mental health, specifically the effects on teenage girls; the unregulated use of both Instagram and Facebook by drug cartels and human trafficing groups in developing countries; the ways in which misinformation and disinformation on Facebook have lead to increased vaccine hesitancy in the US; and the 2018 algorithm update that “rewarded outrage” and contributed to an increasingly angry Facebook. Particularly heinous information in the story about drug cartels and human trafficers have former Facebook vice president, Brian Boland, referring to harm in developing countries as “simply the cost of doing business.” One in three teen girls reported that Instagram made their body image issues worse. This reporting really brings into question Facebook’s argument that the positive effects of connectivity outweigh the negative, but more importantly, it raises the question of what can and should be done. With a company as massive and international as Facebook, doing anything at all is difficult. The New York Times’s Kara Swisher called Facebook “as bad for us as cigarette companies,” but didn’t offer any solution. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), whose signature issue is antitrust legislation, proposes that Facebook and other large tech companies be deemed as “monopoly powers” by the federal government and be broken up into parts, but it’s difficult to say if this is the right thing to do.
The Facebook Files- https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-facebook-files-11631713039
Kara Swisher on Facebook- https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/17/opinion/facebook-instagram-teens.html?searchResultPosition=4
Written by Marianna Pecora