facebook: frances haugen and the files

I feel the need to bring more thoughts to bear about this topic. It is a vital, watershed moment for the direction of social media platforms in our digital age. This event may very well bring the force of our legislative and judicial branches down upon the companies responsible for so much harm to our culture and nation.

If you’re unaware, one week ago, the Wall Street Journal published a series of articles based on internal research that came out of a leak at Facebook. They called it, the Facebook Files.

Within reports created by Facebook’s own teams and circulated among Facebook’s own leadership, negative effects on political divisiveness, teenage body image, the proliferation of fake news, and cultural unrest were uncovered.

The top 1% of Facebook employees (the 1% that steers the ship and the lives of 3 billion users) have long been aware of the harm their products cause. Not only have they been aware, they have been complicit in the attention mining and outrage-fueling of the culture war that has led to the most divided place the US has been since the Civil War.

“Accounts created by children, hidden from their parents, were termed as unique value propositions for profit for shareholders.”

“The damage to self-interest and self-worth inciting self-hate inflicted by Facebook today will haunt a generation.”

“Facebook maximizes profit and ignores pain.”

Five days later, former Facebook Product Manager, Frances Haugen, presented convicting evidence and her own testimony to Congress. Her 3 hour testimony on the effects studied and solutions ignored impacted the lawmakers so greatly they hailed Haugen as a “21st-century America hero” in what will likely be remembered as a massive cultural moment for Big Tech reform.

Unfortunately, reform hasn’t yet begun.

In their “Big Tobacco moment“, Facebook has minimized, denied, and gone sailing to avoid answering for the accounts given. No changes to the way Facebook monetizes their site, deals with user data, or measures their performance have been announced. In fact, the opposite has been declared.

For context, “Time-on-site” (TOS) is Instagram and Facebook’s metric equated to dollars. Their profit model is attention (this is where the phrase “attention economy originates). The best way to maximize TOS is by customizing content for users that appeals to our basest and most dangerous desires. Sexualized, sensationalized, shock-appealing, schismatic content.

The content you are watching, reading, and hearing has been carefully selected to keep you outraged, depressed, and confused enough to drive you back to the mind-numbing activity of infinitely scrolling through your feeds on Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and now TikTok.

As long as Facebook is allowed, they will not change their model. As long as users still use their platform, they still profit and fuel outrage, suicide rates, and stock prices.

The importance of Frances Haugen’s presentation and documents cannot be understated, but there is a second word that is needed. Change requires a destination- a vision of change.

We have to start thinking more deeply about how we are to design products, interact with platforms, and treat each other if we are ever to escape the effects Facebook, Instagram, and all the rest have had on our world….

Author: Ben Fridge


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