Reviews | Facebook was down for a few hours. Should he disappear forever?


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It hasn’t been a good month for Facebook. A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal began publishing a damning survey series, “Facebook files“, based on leaked internal documents revealing that the tech giant knows its platforms do great social damage – often in ways only the company fully understands – but hasn’t done much. to mitigate it for fear of losing profits.

“The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence in the world”, Frances Haugen, the whistleblower who provided the documents at the heart of the Journal’s investigation, Recount CBS. “Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be more secure, people will spend less time on the site, they will click less ads, they will earn less money.”

But before this scandal was completely metabolized, the big Facebook blackout happened: Facebook and its family of apps – Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp – suffered an unusually debilitating global outage on Monday, depriving 3.5 billion people. of an important – or in many countries, the only – means of digital communication.

As the blackout has clearly shown, our world is very dependent on Facebook. But would we be better off without? Here is what people are saying.

Here are some forms of embezzlement revealed by the Journal’s investigation:

  • Throughout the pandemic, anti-vaccine campaigners have used the platform to hamper the U.S. vaccination effort, despite Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s pledge to make the promotion of Covid-19 vaccines a top priority: “Even when he set a goal, the CEO couldn’t run the platform the way he wanted.

  • Instagram researchers have found that the platform harms the mental health of its users – more than other social media platforms – making body image issues worse for one in three teenage girls.

  • Employees reported that Facebook is being used to facilitate all kinds of pernicious activity in developing countries, where its user base is growing, including human trafficking, drug cartel recruitment, incitement violence against ethnic minorities, the sale of organs and government repression of political dissent. A former Facebook vice president described the company’s attitude towards these evils as “Just the cost of doing business”.

“Time and time again, the documents show, Facebook researchers have identified the platform’s adverse effects,” the Journal found. “Time and time again, despite congressional hearings, its own commitments, and numerous media briefings, the company has not corrected them. “

Facebook, for its part, responded to the Journal’s investigation claiming that it contained misinterpretations and promising to “continue to improve our products and services.”

In an essay last year, my former colleague Charlie Warzel argued that such promises only mask the platform’s fundamental inability to reform. “The architecture of the social network – its algorithmic mandate of engagement over everything else, the advantage it gives to content that divides and emotionally manipulates – will always produce more objectionable content on a dizzying scale,” said he wrote.

“You see a lot of people coming up with a hopeful idea of ​​a new human social media platform to save us – a platform that respects privacy or is less algorithmically coercive,” said to Warzel Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor of media studies at the University of Virginia. . “But if we’re being honest, what they’re really coming up with at this point isn’t really social media anymore.”

Indeed, in 2019, Annalee Newitz argued in The Times that now is the time to replace social media with another medium, in the same way that television has been replaced by the Internet. “We need to stop shifting responsibility for maintaining public space to businesses and algorithms – and return it to human beings,” she wrote. “We may have to slow down, but we have already created democracies out of chaos. We can do it again.

While “The Facebook Files” was in the process of being published, Instagram director Adam Mosseri spoke on a podcast in defense of the company, saying its good works outweighed its sins: “Cars create much more value in the world than they destroy, ”he said. noted. “And I think social media is similar.”

It’s not just the people whose salaries depend on believing this argument who believe it. Haugen, the whistleblower, suggests Facebook can still play a positive role in the world: “I don’t hate Facebook,” she said wrote of his reasons for fleeing. “I love Facebook. I want to save it. “

And it is true that Facebook performs some socially useful functions:

  • Through Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, the company offers ways to communicate with people of all ages, life experience and nationality, which is especially useful for diasporic populations trying to stay connected, such as Representative Ro Khanna, a Democrat. from California, Recount Vox.

  • Like Twitter, Facebook facilitates “the exchange of information vital for the coordination of protest activities, such as information on transport, participation, police presence, violence, medical services and legal support,” according to one. 2018 academic article. abstract.

  • Social media sites can have a positive effect on the well-being of marginalized youth: a survey of LGBTQ people aged 14 to 29 posted this year, 11.1% of those who chose Facebook as one of their favorite social media sites said they used it because it helped them feel loved.

When Warzel advocated for the abolition of Facebook, he also researched some of the myriad ideas that were offered for its reform:

  • Some are administrative, such as increasing the application of content moderation, which may be exhausting, even traumatic work. In the United States there are is about one law enforcement officer for every 500 people. Facebook, on the other hand, has only 1.3 people working in the area of ​​safety and security per 100,000 users. “The rules can be applied; it only costs money ”, Gilead Edelman wrote in Wired last year.

[Related: The secret lives of Facebook moderators in America]

The Times’ Kevin Roose says the most recent revelations show “a company fearful of losing power and influence, not gaining it, with its own research showing that many of its products do not thrive organically.” .

What could be a better organizing principle for Facebook’s business model, if not commitment at all costs? Kate Klonick, assistant professor at St. John’s University Law School, argues that it should be a “user experience”, which may involve measuring the Well the things Facebook offers, not just the bad ones – the likelihood that a user will attend a protest, for example, or donate to a charitable cause.

Hopes for a better Facebook were palpable on Tuesday when Haugen testified before a Senate subcommittee about his findings. “Facebook wants you to believe that the problems we are talking about are unsolvable,” she said. “I am here today to tell you that is not true. These problems are soluble. A more secure, more respectful of freedom of expression and more enjoyable social network is possible.

Are you done with Facebook, or do you still think the platform’s advantages outweigh its disadvantages? Write to us at Please include your name, age and place of residence in your response, which may be included in the next newsletter.

“The endless apologies from Facebook” [The New York Times]

“Facebook is an apocalyptic machine” [The Atlantic]

“In defense of Facebook” [The Boston Globe]

“Give Amazon and Facebook a seat at the United Nations” [Bloomberg]

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