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Facebook playing defense after WSJ reports on failure to protect users


Facebook Chief Executive Officer and founder, Mark Zuckerberg, leaving the Merrion Hotel in Dublin after meeting with Irish politicians to discuss regulation of social media, transparrency in political advertising and the safety of young people and vulnerable adults. Tuesday April 2, 2019, Dublin, Ireland.

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Facebook spent the weekend on the defensive after a series of stories in the Wall Street Journal last week exposed just how far the company has gone to prioritize profits over the health and safety of its billions of users.

For those of you who have been following the evolution of the social network giant, this is not a new pattern. Anecdotes concerning Facebook and its leadership are published by major news outlets. Then comes a torrent of criticisms and threats to Congress to regulate the company as well as to summon top executives to testify before them.

Facebook then apologizes, although not without naming the leakers (in this case employees) and criticizing the accuracy of their reporting. On Saturday, following the in-depth series from the Journal, Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, put out a blog post titled, “What the Wall Street Journal got wrong — about Facebook.”

According to the Journal, Facebook’s failures in addressing critical problems identified in company internal studies by its employees has been repeatedly highlighted. For example, how divisive content appears in many newsfeeds due to high engagement. The reports come two months after President Joe Biden said Facebook is “killing people” with misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines and after the company struggled to find a consistent message for dealing with false information about the 2020 election.

According to the Journal, these problems are consistent with criticisms made by Facebook over the years. Executives seem consumed with increasing revenue and engaging users.

One of the stories said that CEO Mark Zuckerberg was given a recommendation by an employee about a change the company could make to reduce the algorithmic boost given to harmful content that captured eyeballs and outsized attention. The report says Zuckerberg said that the employee had suggested a change to reduce the algorithmic boost given to harmful content. He would not accept the recommendation if the proposed changes materially affected users’ relationships with each other.

In a separate piece, the Journal outlined how Facebook has ignored or brushed over the mental health problems caused by Instagram, particularly for teenage girls. Facebook was aware of the problems because it had conducted its research. The company has failed to improve its services and is now working on a new version of Instagram that will be available for children under 13.

Facebook tried hiding likes as an option to fix Instagram. Facebook didn’t find the concept to be helpful after it was tried. Yet the company decided to roll out hiding likes as an option for users because it “would be received by press and parents as a strong positive indication that Instagram cares about its users,” Facebook executives wrote, according to the report.

Another Journal report Facebook has not been able to address issues in other countries because they don’t have the people needed to understand the language or dialect of those markets. There are also places on Facebook where anti-vaccine misinformation, lies and conspiracy theories prevail.

A company with a market value of $1 trillion that generated nearly $30 billion in profits last year, and $86 billion revenue last fiscal year, it is not fair to excuse the inability or inability for them to employ qualified experts.

Facebook defended itself It does as often. Journal accused it of mischaracterizing their actions, and implying outrageously false motives by its employees and leaders.

Clegg responded to the series by writing that Facebook “understands the immense responsibility associated with managing a global platform.” Clegg wrote, “We take it seriously. We don’t shy away form criticism and scrutiny. However, we reject the mischaracterizations and doubts about our work.

However, Clegg didn’t refute any specific facts reported by the Journal, as the paper’s own reporters have noted. And if the past is any indication, we shouldn’t expect any dramatic changes from Facebook, as long as investors keep buying the stock and regulators fail to act.

Facebook rep said that they didn’t have any comment other than the blog post, but added that “we’ve also been working closely with WSJ reporter to make sure our answers are included in this series.”

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