Consider: How does social media influence your perception of current events? How can you use social media more responsibly?
After some explosive new information was leaked to the press by an anonymous source, Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist, revealed herself as the whistleblower and admonished the organization’s impact on our collective health and wellbeing (CBS News). The next day, Haugen testified to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection with the same message, joining advocates and legislators demanding that Congress require more transparency from the organization (AP News). This event, paired with the global outage, has re-centered attention to the unparalleled influence that Facebook has on our lives.
I saw Facebook repeatedly encounter conflicts between its own profits and our safety. Facebook consistently resolved its conflicts in favor of its own profits.
Here are a few points specifically on how Facebook (which owns Facebook in addition to Whatsapp, Instagram, Oculus and other platforms) has caused harm.
Allowing its toxic impact on mental health
There have been plenty of studies that have questioned whether Facebook was productive for users’ mental health. Criticism grew even more when Facebook revealed they were launching Instagram Kids, a platform designed for youth (currently, you must be at least 13 years of age to have an Instagram account). A comprehensive article in the Wall Street Journal proved that young girls are particularly impacted by spending time on Instagram. The article included leaked company reports with the same data (WSJ). After publication, Facebook paused the release of Instagram Kids indefinitely.
Amplifying content that makes people “angry.”
In her 60 Minutes interview, Haugen emphasized that Facebook intentionally shows users content that would make them angry in order to generate engagement, which helps them with ad performance. “Its own research is showing that content that is hateful, that is divisive, that is polarizing, it’s easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions,” said Haugen (Gizmodo).
This has an impact in both the U.S. and abroad. Haugen emphasized that this behavior would only continue to support extremists, similar to how the platform was found to help galvanize the participants of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol (BuzzFeed News). Another WSJ piece outlined how the platform failed to act on drug smugglers and human traffickers flagged by employees (WSJ). And Haugen’s testimony affirmed the sentiment that Facebook contributed to hate speech, misinformation, and disinformation that led to violence and ethnic cleansing in both Myanmar and Ethiopia (Yahoo Finance).
Capacity to cripple global communications
The curiously timed outage, which Facebook attributed to “networking issues” (The Verge), reveals our over-reliance on the technology giant for communication, particularly globally. Messaging services built on Facebook’s infrastructure, especially Whatsapp, are the primary form of communication for many people in countries across the globe. They also act as the foundation for payments, transportation, and scheduling and confirming appointments. NBC News cites examples of how entire regions in countries like Malaysia and the Philippines were crippled from performing essential services (NBC News).
It’s obvious that many people depend on – and appreciate – the tech platform’s ability to connect us and introduce us to new content. Many of you readers may have found us in the same way! And although advocates call for government intervention, others are wary about giving the government additional oversight into our conversations – consider, for example, how often technology is leveraged to racially profile marginalized groups (NYTimes). Either way, it’s clear that more accountability must be imposed on the platform to recognize its harm. It might feel like you, an everyday user, has little impact on the role of a tech behemoth. But it couldn’t be the opposite – Facebook’s tech platforms thrive because of you and your engagement (if you use them, of course). Signing up for a day-long boycott can make more of an impact than you might imagine.
Frances Haugen, a former Facebook algorithm specialist, leaked internal documents to the press and testified against Facebook for their troubled business practices.
Facebook has been accused of disseminating mis- and disinformation that promotes extremism fosters hate, and harms marginalized groups.
The Facebook outage highlighted the issue of placing too much trust in one tech platform for our global communications.
Individual direct action is a powerful way to make a statement against the company.