Facebook has again been accused of various transgressions, this time by a former product manager with access to documented proof that the social media platform acknowledges that its algorithm, designed to promote user well-being, instead promotes hate and distrust.
Whistleblower Frances Haugen, frustrated by the lack of action taken by the company used her lawyers to send documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and The Wall Street Journal to incite action. And with a Congressional hearing already underway, action is being taken.
Haugen states that there has been s rise in hate speech, divisive content, and misinformation after Facebook launched changes to its News Feed model in 2018. Designed to favor posts that generate meaningful discussion over passive consumption, the outcome instead has shown to be that “misinformation, toxicity, and violent content are inordinately prevalent among reshares,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
But it was not the claims on the rise of divisive content on Facebook that moved Congress, but the claim that Instagram is harmful to teenage girls by increasing body image issues which lead to higher levels of anxiety, stress, and depression.
This is not news to researchers that study social media. For the past 10 years they have been providing reports that teen body image is affected by all forms of social media. In response, Facebook has referred to other studies that show social media can make teens feel better about themselves in the absence of any pre-existing issues.
With conflicting information, it is not surprising that action to correct these issues had been slow to gain momentum until internal research released by Haugen showed that Instagram acknowledges it makes body image issues worse for 1 in 3 girls.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a statement denying all allegations and cited the company’s work to eliminate “harmful content” and “industry-leading standard of transparency and reporting.” And while Facebook points to all the good it has done many are saying it’s just not enough.
This is not the first or last publicity storm the social media giant has gone through. With people already using Apple’s “Ask App Not to Track” feature, a tarnished public image may increase the number of users opting out of being tracked by Facebook, but it is too soon to tell if this recent scandal will increase those leaving the data pool.
Past outrage for similar offences has yielded little to no change and currently advertisers see no reason to abandon Facebook’s wildly successful ad system. With no dip in income, investors also see no reason to abandon a wildly profitable company.
And even though a Congressional hearing is already underway the most important trial is likely to be held in the biggest court of all, the media.
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