Facebook Under Fire | Jasmine Elasaad
If you’ve been reading the news at all lately, you’ve probably heard about the mass scrutiny that popular social media platform Facebook has been subjected to. In what very well may be the biggest scandal in company history, former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen has recently come forward to expose the company’s corrupt nature and has compiled her findings into what has been dubbed the Facebook Files. Apparently, outsiders (government included) are incredibly detached from the inner workings of the platform, and before now, were completely unaware of the lengths Facebook is willing to go to prioritize their growth over the safety of its users.
Haugen was successfully able to copy and smuggle out over ten thousand pages of the company’s innermost research. What she discovered was that Facebook has managed to foster an environment of hate that has long hurt its users, especially the youth. Despite Facebook’s attempts to reassure the public that they are actively trying to reduce the hate on their platform, it has been made apparent that little has actually been done to counteract this effect, with one of their 2021 reports saying "we estimate that we may action as little as 3-5% of hate and about 6-tenths of 1% of V & I [violence and incitement] on Facebook.” Rather, it seems that they have chosen to amplify such hateful content through their algorithm to increase their engagement and keep the platform relevant.
Facebook’s algorithm tailors a user’s content to their personal interests and takes into account their levels of engagement with various subjects. Hateful, dividing content typically elicits strong reactions among users, and thus is valued over more positive and “less interesting” content that produces weaker reactions. Facebook officials view riling their users as the most surefire way to keep them glued to the app. Instead of implementing safeguards or promoting less negative content from traversing their app, Facebook continues to sit back and let the chaos continue so that they can reap the profits.
Users exposed to content filled with such negativity only grow angrier with time and will more often than not find themselves entrenched on one side of an issue, unable to see the other side’s perspective. This is a recipe for sowing divisions and the seeds of hate towards those who view issues differently. The platform can also be used as a means to spread violence if anger is allowed to fester for long enough, an idea that has been illustrated by the January 6th Capitol insurrection.
Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) also plays a huge role in harming teenagers, especially when it comes to young girls whose body images are already fragile enough as is. In one study, Facebook found that 32.4% of teen girls reported feeling worse about their body image after using the platform, 17% reported worsened eating disorders, and 13.5% found that usage intensified suicidal thoughts. Psychologists and psychiatrists have long suspected the harmful effects that social media can have on the youth, and thanks to Haugen, Facebook has had to release some of their own research in light of her claims, which clearly illustrates the threat their platforms pose to teenagers. This gives us some insight as to why the project surrounding the creation of an Instagram targeted towards younger children has been so largely discouraged by the public and postponed as of now.