Social media in your sights: How dangerous are Facebook & Co. for your users?

In the US Senate, Republicans and Democrats rarely agree. However, this exceptional case occurred when former Facebook employee Frances Haugen appeared before a

Social media in your sights: How dangerous are Facebook & Co. for your users?

In the US Senate, Republicans and Democrats rarely agree. However, this exceptional case occurred when former Facebook employee Frances Haugen appeared before a Senate committee on October 5 to unpack the internal research of the Internet giant. A Democratic senator described their revelations as a "bombshell", a Republican colleague agreed with him that the children of America are dependent on the product of the technology gods.

The hearing is the preliminary highlight of the current Facebook scandal, since September the "Wall Street Journal" reported on the revelations of the initially anonymous whistleblower. On American television, she finally made herself known: the 37-year-old data scientist Frances Haugen worked as a product manager at Facebook from 2019 to 2021, her team was supposed to combat misinformation on social media. After that department was disbanded, Haugen said, she quit. Not without first obtaining copies of tens of thousands of internal documents.

These are intended to prove that Facebook hides the danger posed by itself, Haugen explains the content as follows: The group's algorithms would prefer posts that are often shared and commented on – which is the case with lies or hateful comments. And this technology would have already fanned ethnic conflicts. Facebook is aware that with the current systems it recognizes and deletes a maximum of twenty percent of this content. The revelations also document internal research by the group, at one point it says: "We are exacerbating problems with one in three teenage girls with their body image."

According to Haugen, the data prove that the photo platform Instagram plunges young people into mental health problems.This strengthens the backs of politicians in the US and Europe, who have been targeting Facebook for a long time and want to control it more. This may be morally and ethically correct, but the current development is nevertheless problematic: from the perspective of science, the evidence for Facebook's youth-damaging effect has so far been on shaky legs. Facebook Instagram

Random samples show no causal relationships

On the one hand, Facebook claims this itself, because one of the typical methods to estimate the influence of Instagram, for example, was to have tens of thousands of users fill out questionnaires. They should report negative experiences, whether they were sad, had a physical problem or felt lonely; then they should assess the influence of Instagram on it themselves. In fact, in most cases, respondents said that Instagram would do them good.

However, every third teenage girl also believed that Instagram would aggravate existing problems with her own body image. In addition, Facebook had around forty teenagers interviewed in detail; apparently, the group was able to identify concrete content on the platform that caused positive or negative emotions among users. For example, they felt worse the more pictures of celebrities were shown to them, according to Haugen's documents. We are now hearing from Facebook that this research was only for the purpose of stimulating internal discussions, it is based on tiny samples and does not show any causal relationships.

Updated Date: 19 November 2021, 00:01

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