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Social Media: A savior or a predator?

Frances Haugen who is currently in the UK has told British MPs that Facebook is “unquestionably making hate worse”, as the MPs consider imposing new rules on big social networks.

SNS | Kolkata |

The details published by The Washington post regarding the misinformation campaign that has been pursued by Facebook against the vaccination of Covid-19 outlines several irregularities committed by the tech giant. A former Facebook employee, Frances Haugen’s lawyers disclosed the information reviewed by a fellowship of media organizations including the Washington Post.

The company’s internal communications are included in these documents on various aspects of monitoring the content and running the app. The Wall Street Journal reported previously regarding Facebook’s struggle to police anti-vaccine comments.

According to the available information, Facebook researchers had quite a depth of knowledge regarding the Covid and vaccine misinformation that has been moved through the company’s apps. It conducted multiple types of research and studies producing large internal reports on kinds of users sharing false news on the deadly virus.

The Controversy

Although the White House urged Facebook for months to be transparent regarding the misinformation carried on and its effects on its users, but they didn’t share properly and timely with academics and lawmakers. However, the company refused to publicly share this information, resulting in a showdown with President Joe Biden’s administration.

The documents highlight the alleged study of Facebook on Covid and vaccine misinformation on its platform mangled across the world, unveiling findings concerning its employees.

In congressional testimony and public blog post, executives turned their focus towards more positive aspects of social media networks’ response to the pandemic, like how many pieces of misinformation it had taken down its users to find vaccine clinics near them.

The disconnection between the well-known and shared bolsters from the lawmakers, who were amendable to proposals in order to force huge transparency from technical giants, supporting Haugen’s assertion directly that a different body of regulation is needed to study internal research and algorithms keeping eye on social media platforms.

Facebook’s influence

It has been an integral part of a discussion about the pandemic that how Facebook has affected perceptions around vaccines. As the delta variant of the disease was triggered in July, the rate of new vaccines leveled off, the White House started blaming social media channels. President Joe Biden exclaimed that Facebook was “killing people”, although he backed up the comment later.

In May, before the public fight between the White House and the company, Haugen left Facebook. Hence, the kind of information, company was having at that time remains unclear. But before the public spat, employees were looking into the issue.

It was noted by the employee that algorithm dynamics created “self-reinforcing” feedback loops, where most of the support in the comments and reactions were in vaccine-skeptical posts. With many “like” and “love” reactions, anti-vaccine comments got boosted. While the ones who posted pro-vaccine contents, came up with “sad”, “angry”, or “haha” reactions, as per the researchers,

The reports have also claimed that Facebook allegedly researched that came out with a conclusion of Instagram harming teenage mental health and struggling to omit hate speech from its handle outside the United States.

In addition to this, Frances Haugen who is currently in the UK has told British MPs that Facebook is “unquestionably making hate worse”, as the MPs consider imposing new rules on big social networks.

While speaking to the Online Safety Bill Committee in London, Haugen said the safety teams of Facebook were under-resourced, and also warned regarding Instagram that it was “more dangerous than other forms of social media”.

She said while other social networks were about performance, play, or an exchange of ideas, “Instagram is about social comparison and bodies… about people’s lifestyles, and that’s what ends up being worse for kids”. She said Facebook’s research allegedly described one problem as “an addict’s narrative” – where children are unhappy, can’t control their use of the app, but feel like they cannot stop using it.

Large social networks will be placed new duties by the Online Safety Bill Committee’s law and will be subjected to be checked by the media regulator Ofcom in the UK.

Stating the current system to be “literally subsidising hate on these platforms”, Ms. Haugen urged the committee to add paid-for advertising in its new rule, which is due to algorithmic ranking. Furthermore, she urged MPs to require a breakdown, who is harmed by the content rather than figures on an average. She suggests Facebook is “very good at dancing with data”, but pushes people towards “extreme content”.

She also warned Facebook to be unable to police content in numerous languages around the world – that should be a reason of worry to UK officials. She further added that Britain and US can be affected by misinformation in other languages.

“Those people are also living in the UK, and being fed misinformation that is dangerous, that radicalises people. When I worked on counter-espionage, I saw things where I was concerned about national security, and I had no idea how to escalate those because I didn’t have faith in my chain of command at that point,” she told the committee.

“Similar problems plague Facebook’s Oversight Board, which can overturn the company’s decisions on content”, she said. She repeated her claim that “Facebook has repeatedly lied to its watchdog, and said this is a “defining moment” for the Oversight Board to “step up”.

Facebook has been accused many times due to its interference in other country’s internal politics. Previously, it has been charged with interfering in two US presidential elections, parliamentary elections in the UK and India, and the role that it played during the Delhi riots in the last year.

Facebook’s future

According to the report, Facebook has earned 9 billion dollars in the current year despite the whistleblower scandal, came news that the new name adopted by Facebook is Meta. The reason behind choosing this name as per Zukerberg is, its meaning in Greek is “Beyond”. It also alludes to the “Metaverse”, an online virtual oasis that he wants to build.

The critics of Facebook believe that this has been done to detoxify the brand name. Zukerberg further thinks of creating a virtual world that will later transform the human experience. Now, it is time to wait and watch the flow of people.

Another question that arises is why Facebook was only targeted amongst all technical and social media giants. Several anti and pro lobbies are identified due to this, but this question might get an answer in the future by the time we experience Metaverse.

(With inputs from IANS)