Language barriers and anger emojis: The biggest issues in the 'Facebook Papers'

Language barriers and anger emojis: The biggest issues in the 'Facebook Papers'
·4 min read

Thousands of internal Facebook documents shared with Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission in recent weeks reveal an array of problems facing the social media giant as it attempts to rehabilitate its image amid scrutiny from both sides of the aisle.

The documents, known as the "Facebook Papers," paint a picture of a company struggling to manage its enormous global reach and the ethical issues that its scale has created.

Here are some of the revelations from the papers.

Youth retention

Documents suggested Facebook was aware of its struggle with engaging young users, who viewed the social media site as an “outdated platform.”

Young people also described the platform as “boring” and “negative,” and the company’s data showed that younger users have begun to use the platform less than their older counterparts.

Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee who has testified before Congress as a whistleblower for the company’s policies, accused the platform’s executives of misleading investors and advertisers about the metrics related to young user engagement.

Conservative censorship

Rank-and-file employees regularly sparred with Facebook management over the reach achieved by conservative content creators, according to some of the documents.

Internal chats shared with the Wall Street Journal showed Facebook employees took issue with the site’s decision to allow some right-leaning publications, including Breitbart, to participate in a feature of the website that served articles to readers as news.

The documents also suggest a number of Facebook employees harbored animosity toward conservatives and prominent figures on the Right, including Fox News's Tucker Carlson.

Concerns about censorship have driven much of the Right’s scrutiny of Facebook in recent years, as more major platforms, in particular Twitter, have taken an activist stance when it comes to removing or limiting the speech of conservatives.

Human trafficking

Facebook struggled to crack down on the use of its app for human trafficking in multiple countries, according to some of the documents reviewed by several news outlets.

The problem was so bad that Apple threatened to pull the Facebook and Instagram apps from its app store in 2019 if the company didn’t start more aggressively policing abuses on its platform.

Reporting on some of the documents suggests women who were trafficked using Facebook faced physical and sexual abuse and that the company was aware of its shortcomings in catching and stopping the activity.

Emoji elevation

Facebook’s algorithm has been blamed for promoting sensational content that has contributed to polarization, especially during the 2016 election, when Democrats blamed the platform for allowing posts sponsored by Russia to proliferate in ways they claimed tilted the election.

The trove of documents suggests Facebook altered its algorithm in 2017 to elevate polarizing content even further.

The company reportedly weighted user reactions to posts more heavily if a user responded with an anger emoji rather than a like, according to the documents, which some employees worried internally could promote more outrageous content at the expense of straight news or agreeable content.

Facebook downgraded the weight of anger emojis in 2018.

Language barriers

Language barriers prevented Facebook from policing hate speech in some countries, where the company did not have staff in place to review content for harmful posts in every language widely used.

That was the case in India, where the platform didn’t have the ability to monitor for hate speech in two of the most widely spoken languages in a country that represents its largest user base.

Arabic has also posed an issue for Facebook content moderators, who have struggled to apply policies in the language, according to the Associated Press's review of some documents.

Negative impact on youth

One of the early revelations to emerge from the papers was the company’s knowledge that Instagram, which it owns, negatively affected the mental health of teenagers and young people.

Even so, Facebook has in public downplayed any harmful impacts that its products may have on young people.

The papers reviewed by the Wall Street Journal suggested Facebook continued to develop products targeting a demographic it knew could suffer from using its platforms.

Since Haugen’s testimony, Facebook has continued to argue the leaked research on young users has been misrepresented and that it does not knowingly harm young people.

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Tags: News, Facebook, Big Tech, Censorship, Instagram, Social Media

Original Author: Sarah Westwood

Original Location: Language barriers and anger emojis: The biggest issues in the 'Facebook Papers'

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