Facebook, the corporation behind Instagram, WhatsApp and the eponymous social media site, is reportedly considering changing its name.
What it really seems to want is to change the subject, especially after 17 news media organizations culled through thousands of pages of internal documents obtained by a former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen.
Most media outlets delved deeper through interviews with existing or former Facebook employees. The Washington Post wrote that the Facebook Papers reveal that the social media firm "has privately and meticulously tracked real-world harms exacerbated by its platforms, ignored warnings from its employees about the risk of their design decisions and exposed vulnerable communities around the world to a cocktail of dangerous content." One of those vulnerable communities is the United States, home to what used to be a beacon of democracy. But that light has dimmed since the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a MAGA mob set to overturn the legitimate election of President Joe Biden.
Although Facebook had ramped up its anti-hate speech, anti-violence and anti-misinformation efforts prior to the 2020 election, employees said that many of these measures were relaxed, allowing scores of "Stop the Steal" groups to proliferate. The impact of the lethal insurrection continues to reverberate, with former President Donald Trump using his "Big Lie" as a loyalty test for Republicans seeking office. Indeed, the threat to our democracy has only amplified since the Capitol attack.
Meanwhile, vulnerable communities around the world have had an even worse time with Facebook's negligence. With a reported 84% of Facebook's misinformation prevention efforts targeted for the U.S., a scant 16% are reserved for the rest of the world, even though places like India have vast populations of Facebook users — the most in any country, as a matter of fact.
The results can be catastrophic. In 2019, according to a New York Times report, a Facebook researcher created an account in India and followed every recommendation generated by the firm's algorithm to join groups, watch videos and check out new sites. The resulting flood of hate speech in the nation marked by sectarian strife led the researcher to write: "This test user's News Feed has become a near constant barrage of polarizing nationalist content, misinformation, and violence and gore."
Similar social media-inspired hate has shown up in countries such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar and elsewhere. One of the reasons, researchers have argued, is Facebook's lack of understanding of cultural and linguistic context.
"Anger and hate" are the easiest way to grow on Facebook, Haugen told lawmakers in the United Kingdom on Monday as she takes her case to Europe, which may be much more aggressive on regulation. "Bad actors have an incentive to play the algorithm," she said. "The current system is biased towards bad actors, and people who push people to the extremes."
Facebook's key constituents — users, advertisers and regulators — need to carefully consider the "current system." More Facebook Papers revelations are sure to come, and Haugen's comments will keep the heat on Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, whose repeated promises of reform haven't happened or have been ineffective.
One of the reasons Zuckerberg reportedly is considering a name change is he wants his company's focus to be on the "Metaverse." That ill-defined concept can wait. Especially considering the real-world woe his creation is amplifying.