Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

How Facebook Failed the World

Ellen Cushing, the Atlantic:

But these documents show that the Facebook we have in the United States is actually the platform at its best. It’s the version made by people who speak our language and understand our customs, who take our civic problems seriously because those problems are theirs too. It’s the version that exists on a free internet, under a relatively stable government, in a wealthy democracy. It’s also the version to which Facebook dedicates the most moderation resources. Elsewhere, the documents show, things are different. In the most vulnerable parts of the world — places with limited internet access, where smaller user numbers mean bad actors have undue influence — the trade-offs and mistakes that Facebook makes can have deadly consequences.

According to the documents, Facebook is aware that its products are being used to facilitate hate speech in the Middle East, violent cartels in Mexico, ethnic cleansing in Ethiopia, extremist anti-Muslim rhetoric in India, and sex trafficking in Dubai. It is also aware that its efforts to combat these things are insufficient. A March 2021 report notes, “We frequently observe highly coordinated, intentional activity … by problematic actors” that is “particularly prevalent — and problematic — in At-Risk Countries and Contexts”; the report later acknowledges, “Current mitigation strategies are not enough.”

Alex Kantrowitz, who writes the Big Technology newsletter, noted that there is not one entity outside of the North American and European press with access to these documents. Given Facebook’s influence everywhere else, that is a galling omission. I agree with Kantrowitz: these redacted documents should be opened up to researchers and journalists everywhere.