Saturday, September 23

Zuckerberg, in the trigger for the revelations of Facebook


Correspondent in New York

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When Mark Zuckerberg had to choose between the growth of his company – the conglomerate formed by Facebook and large other social networks that he has bought along the way, such as Instagram and WhatsApp – and the interest of his users, on many occasions he favored the former . The genius who created Facebook with a friend at his Harvard dorm and who dropped out of university to turn the company into the largest social network in the world, he has always sold his creature as a force for good: to unite people and respect freedom of expression.

The criticisms and attacks on Facebook and Zuckerberg are not new – the role of the social network in the dissemination of political or scientific disinformation is old – but they have redoubled in recent weeks. The engine of this new onslaught is Frances Haugen, a former Facebook executive, who delivered as a ‘snitch’ tens of thousands of documents, reports, studies and memoranda from Facebook to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC, in its acronym in English), in addition to leaking them to ‘The Wall Street Journal ‘.

Their lawyers also turned them over to Congress, where Haugen appeared last week, and now all that documentary archive has ended up in the hands of a consortium of media, which have begun to scrutinize its content. Sensitive issues for Facebook have already emerged from the investigation of ‘The Wall Street Journal’: the social network had special standards for VIP clients; I knew that Instagram was harmful to teenagers but did not do much to remedy it; or avoided changes to make the social network less angry to its users.

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Since yesterday new details have begun to be known about questionable insights on Facebook, in some of which Zuckerberg had a direct imprint. One of them was the maintenance of the operations of the social network in Vietnam, where the dictatorship of the Communist Party he demanded that he censor political dissidents. Otherwise, he would be expelled from the country, where in 2018 he had an annual income of one billion dollars, according to Amnesty International.

According to an examination of the leaked documents by ‘The Washington Post’, Zuckerberg personally made the decision to accept these conditions. While facing public opinion, the co-founder of the social network is shown as a defender of freedom, in Vietnam it enacted the opposite.

This double-sided appears in other instances of the documents. For example, Zuckerberg defended last year in a congressional appearance that Facebook removed 94% of the hateful content he found on his social networks, while the company’s internal documents, prepared by its own researchers, spoke of the percentage being much lower, 5%. Zuckerberg has also assured that “it is not at all clear” that Facebook promotes political polarization, while it is something that has been verified internally.

In his appearance in Congress, Haugen repeatedly accused Zuckerberg of choosing to do more business in the face of the safety or interest of his users. On Monday he expressed it again in another official appearance, this time in London, before British legislators. “Anger and hatred are the easiest way to grow on Facebook”, said Haugen, who defended that the algorithms that the social network uses to present content to its users favor that content and encourages “harmful actors, those who go to extremes.” Haugen did not say that Facebook was targeting the spread of hate, but did criticize that his former company has been “negligent in responding to the data.”

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The documents show Zuckerberg’s direct involvement in these matters. One of them collects a memorandum from a meeting in which the company leader rejected in April of last year a proposal from internal investigators to reduce the presence of hateful content, misinformation, graphic violence or nudism if that meant “sacrificing” high levels of user interaction. The company has denied this correlation between growth and user interest and has defended that it “always makes difficult decisions between freedom of expression and harmful content.” This same month, Zuckerberg wrote that “most of us do not recognize the false portrait that is being painted of this company.”

The portrait is not finished, in any case. The revelations are expected to continue to rain down on Facebook for the next few days and weeks. Some, now known, show other problems: for example, that the social network does not care enough about controlling hateful content outside the US., especially in developing countries. While only 10% of Facebook users are in the US, the company dedicates 84% ​​of its resources to this market to combat misinformation. The consequence is inefficient monitoring of hateful content – including communications from terrorist groups – outside the United States.

The documents also reveal that Facebook has failed to deliver on promises to end harmful content, like having become a platform to trade and sell with maids, especially in the Middle East. After Apple threatened to kick Facebook and Instagram out of its App Store – its app store – the company said it would end the practice. The documents show that Facebook has not done much to deliver on its promise and that it is still used for those purposes.

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