Profit or people? Facebook papers reveal deep conflict within

Facebook is losing control over Facebook the product. Facebook also lost its decade-old image of a generous company that just wants to connect the world.

Profit or people? Facebook papers reveal deep conflict within

A former employee provided thousands of pages of documents to Congress. They show an internally conflicted organization where data about the harms it causes and solutions are scarce.

These documents reveal that Facebook has, despite its avowed good intentions and slow-walking or sidelining efforts to address the real harms it has caused and magnified. These documents reveal many instances in which researchers and rank-and file workers discovered deep-rooted problems that were then ignored or overlooked by the company.

The CEO Mark Zuckerberg is ultimately responsible for the current state of affairs. One former employee said that Zuckerberg holds dictatorial power over a company that collects and provides services free to around 3 billion people.

"Ultimately, it is Mark's decision and whatever his prerogatives are -- and it has always being to grow, increase his power, and his reach," Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University communications professor, said. Grygiel has been closely following Facebook for many years.

Zuckerberg holds a firm grip on Facebook Inc. Zuckerberg holds the majority of voting shares of Facebook Inc. He also controls its board of directors. He has been increasingly surround himself with executives who aren't likely to doubt his vision.

He has not been able to address the stagnant user growth and the shrinking engagement for Facebook in key areas like the United States and Europe. Even worse, the company is losing its most important demographic, teenagers, and young people, with no clear way to get it back, according to its documents.

According to an internal November 2020 document, young adults are less likely to use Facebook than their older counterparts. They view it as an "outdated network" that has "irrelevant material" that offers little value. They call it "boring", misleading, and negative.

The young view Facebook as a place where they can find old people.

According to company researchers, Facebook's user base is aging more quickly than the general population. Facebook must find a way that this can be reversed. This will mean that its user base will continue to age faster than the general population. Young people will have less reason to sign up, which could threaten the monthly user numbers that are vital to advertising. Facebook claims its products are still popular among teens, but it admits that there is "tough competition" from Snapchat, TikTok and other social media platforms.

Facebook has been pushing for high user growth in countries other than the United States and Western Europe to ensure it continues to grow its power and reach. The company failed to anticipate or address the unintended consequences of signing millions of users in less-familiar parts of the globe without providing staff and systems to detect and limit hate speech, misinformation, and calls for violence.

Extremist language flourished in Afghanistan and Myanmar due to a lack of language support. It has been linked to the atrocities against Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority.

Facebook seems unable to recognize, much less prevent, real-world collateral harm that comes with its untrammeled growth. These harms include pervasive misinformation, extremism, facilitation for human trafficking, teenage suicide, and other shadowy algorithms.

When growth and profit are at odds with the internal efforts to address these problems, they have been abandoned or pushed aside.

The company was backed into a corner by hard evidence from leaked documents and has redoubled its efforts to defend its decisions rather than trying to solve its problems.

After Frances Haugen's whistleblower testimony, Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of global policies management, said that "we don't and we haven’t prioritized safety over engagement." Facebook tried to discredit Haugen in the days following Haugen's testimony, appearance on "60 Minutes", during which Zuckerberg posted a video showing him sailing with his wife Priscilla.

"A curated selection of millions of documents at Facebook cannot in any way be used to draw Fair Conclusions about us," Facebook tweeted earlier this month from its public relations "newsroom". This was after the company discovered that a number of news organizations were working on stories about internal documents.

"At the core of these stories lies a false premise. Facebook stated in a prepared statement that they are a business. However, the notion that we profit at the expense people's safety and wellbeing is false. "The truth is that we have invested $13 billion in people and have more than 40,000 people to do one thing: Keep people safe on Facebook.

These statements are the latest indication that Facebook has entered what Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook data scientist described as a "siege mentality." Zhang accused Facebook of failing to recognize fake accounts that were used to undermine foreign election results. It's only getting worse with more whistleblowers, including Haugen, coming forward.

Zhang was fired by Facebook in fall 2020. He stated that Facebook has been in a "bit of an authoritarian narrative spiral" where it is less responsive to employee criticism and internal dissent, and sometimes cracks down on it. This leads to internal dissent.

"I have witnessed many colleagues that are extremely frustrated, angry, and at the same time feeling powerless (and disheartened), about the current condition," wrote one employee on an internal message board. This was after Facebook removed incendiary posts last year by former President Donald Trump suggesting that Minneapolis protesters might be shot. "My opinion is that if you want Facebook to be fixed, then do it within.

This story was based partly on disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission. They were redacted by Haugen's lawyer and made available to Congress. The Redacted versions were obtained by a group of news organizations, which included The Associated Press.

These documents detail meticulously collected data on issues such as the trafficking in domestic workers in the Middle East, a failure to crackdown on Arabic content, which critics claim muzzles free speech, while hate speech, abuse, and rampant antivaccine misinformation. Researchers found that subtle changes in how users see posts on their feed could easily reduce the problem.

Facebook insists that it does not conduct research, and then systematically, and willfully ignore it when the findings are inconvenient to the company." In a statement, Facebook stated that it can only make this claim by cherry-picking select quotes from leaked material and presenting complex and nuanced problems as if there is always one right answer.

Haugen, who testified before Congress this month that Facebook's products "harm kids, stoke tension and weaken our democracy," stated that the company should declare "moral bankruptcy" to get out of this mess.

This seems unlikely at this point. Facebook is in a conflict between profit and people. The company doesn't seem ready to let go of its story that Facebook is good for the world, even though it makes frequent decisions to maximize growth.

Zhang recalls that Facebook conducted regular surveys with its employees to find out how many employees think Facebook makes the world a better place.

It was about 70% when I joined. Zhang, who had been with the company for over two years before being fired in 2020 fall, stated that it was only 50 percent at the time she left.

Facebook has yet to reveal the current number.

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