The CliffsNotes of The Facebook Papers
News outlets are poring over the leaked Facebook Papers, the documents provided by whistleblower Frances Haugen that were the basis for this past month’s Wall Street Journal pieces and Congressional hearing. Despite several embarrassing revelations, CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledged that the company “sets the standard for transparency,” but he may have to prove that if he hopes to capture his new young “North Star” user base.
With a lot of documents to go through, The Verge has provided a great primer on some key topics from yesterday’s bombshell.
- Moderation is hard. Whether dealing with anti-vax misinformation, testing how to quash harmful groups, or figuring out how to account for “harmful non-violating narratives” like January 6, Facebook employees were overwhelmed by the amount of moderation necessary to run a platform of its size.
- Civics is complicated. Facebook has been trying to readjust its news feed to value “civic health” after realizing that prioritizing “social interactions” and “session time” created a negative user experience. But, in-platform surveys to push civic content found 20-30% of respondents liked civic hate. Yikes.
- Ads saved likes. At one point, Zuckerberg touted that Instagram would hide like counts to “depressurize” the app. But employees basically said, “it’s bad business, and people don’t care anyway.” So the platform opted to just let people opt out of showing their likes instead.
- Facebook has a “slave market” problem. Near the end of 2019, Apple threatened to kick Facebook’s apps off of its App Store in the wake of a BBC report that found that Facebook and Instagram had a sizeable human trafficking market. Facebook knew about it but didn’t know the scope, kicking moderation into override to make sure it didn’t lose App Store placement.
Amidst the flurry of criticism, Facebook is trying to rebrand and leave the bad press behind. In its latest episode of “hey, look over here!” the social giant announced during its quarterly earnings call yesterday that the company is pledging $10 billion this year to build out the metaverse and that it would shift its focus to catering to its new “North Star” user base, people between the ages of 18-29.