Why the Fb whistleblower doesn’t need the corporate damaged up — Quartz
Facebook is the world’s dominant social media company: almost 3 billion people use the Facebook suite every month, more than a third of the world’s population, around 700 million more than YouTube, its closest competitor. And it makes almost all of its money doing ads for users. Last year, the social media giant grossed $ 86 billion through Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp, and more.
Would breaking up actually solve something, as critics have argued? Facebook faces an avalanche of problems: data protection, misinformation, hate speech, destabilizing developing countries, enabling autocrats and makes us angrier and more insecure when we use its products.
The whistleblower behind the “Facebook Files”, internal documents leaked by the Wall Street Journal in recent weeks, is not convinced.
The source of the document, Frances Haugen, a former Facebook electoral integrity product manager, testified in the US Senate on Tuesday October 5 that Facebook’s products “harm children, fuel divisions and weaken our democracy. “The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram more secure,” she told TK, “but they will not make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before the people.”
But Haugen, she said, doesn’t want Facebook to be disbanded. Instead, she wants new regulations to monitor Facebook’s algorithm and make it transparent, and the company to implement corrections.
The rationale of the whistleblower
Facebook is currently being sued or investigated by the US Federal Trade Commission, 48 attorneys general and competition authorities in Europe, the UK and Germany for antitrust reasons. Leaked documents show, among other things, Facebook had lax content rules for celebrities and politicians, suppressed research showing Instagram is toxic to teenage girls, and tweaked its algorithm to prioritize hateful and angry content.
But Haugen told lawmakers that dismantling Facebook would not solve what she sees as the main problem: the algorithms themselves. In her view, Facebook prioritizes engagement in posts, which translates into profits, over everything else. “A company with such a terrifying impact on so many people, their deepest thoughts, feelings and behaviors, needs real oversight,” she said. “These systems will continue to exist and be dangerous even if they are destroyed.”
Instead, she argued, government oversight was key. Haugen argued that Congress should set up a new regulator that would be able to review Facebook’s algorithms. The division of the company could create only three separate entities with the same challenges – and fewer resources to solve these problems. “If you separate Instagram and Facebook, chances are that most of the advertising money will go to Instagram and Facebook will continue to be that Frankenstein putting lives at risk all over the world – only there will be no money now to fund it. ”
The impact could be particularly dire in developing countries, where Facebook serves as the de facto internet for many. Facebook’s Free Basics program provides rudimentary internet access to millions of people, while critics refer to it as a “goal drug” or “digital colonialism” and cement Facebook’s status as the gatekeeper to the internet for many in the global south. In 2018, the United Nations also found that Facebook played a “crucial role” in making Myanmar’s genocide of Rohingya Muslims possible.
What would a split of Facebook do?
The disintegration of the Facebook empire would address one point of criticism: it would end the control that the company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, and his close circle wield over all three of the most powerful global communication apps: Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook.
As a separate company, a very small number of people within the Zuckerberg area would stop dictating guidelines to billions of users, says Shannon McGregor, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies social media. “Ultimately, one of the main problems is that decision-making depends on a very small and limited group of people, most notably Mark Zuckerberg, and so this division means that at least this disrupts that dynamic,” McGregor said, noting that There are no guarantee that the individual bosses of the broken companies would do things differently.
Chinmayi Arun, a researcher at Yale Law School and the Berkman Klein Center For Internet & Society at Harvard, agreed that leadership changes would only go so far as to change the way Facebook works. “The breakup of Facebook will solve some of its problems, including the huge impact the company currently has on the public, but it won’t solve all of its problems,” he said in an interview.
Find the money to moderate social media
The company is already launching a counter-offensive against efforts to disband Facebook’s empire. In a recent interview with Recode, Instagram boss Adam Mosseri claimed that splitting Facebook’s social platforms would leave the photo-sharing app unprepared for key issues related to content moderation. “My first concern would be that we would get in a lot of trouble when it came to security, integrity and wellbeing issues,” said Mosseri. “There are more people working on security and integrity at the Facebook company than there are people working at Instagram.” That would hurt the company’s efforts on hate speech, election integrity, ad transparency and more, he said. A Facebook spokesman declined to comment.
Haugen also told lawmakers that a split would hurt Facebook’s advertising business the most, leaving the company in dire straits and shutting down funding important research and civic integrity efforts (though UNC’s McGregor opposed Instagram, Jan. US dollars will bring in billions in advertising as of 2019, even if it were split off it could afford to add staff and resources to work in these key areas.)
However, if the goal of an antitrust lawsuit is to dissolve Facebook’s mergers to promote competition – the stated purpose of the FTC’s complaint – it might make sense to pursue them. The split of the Facebook empire could revive for the first time in years amid stiff competition in social media and messaging.
But there is no guarantee that a broken Facebook would be more responsible than a big Facebook.