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The Facebook Papers, Explained

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Facebook is in the news again, after 17 news outlets collaborated to analyse internal Facebook documents, obtained by former Facebook employee turned whistleblower Frances Haugen. The collective coverage is known as the ‘Facebook Papers’. The documents build on the findings from the original Wall Street Journal investigation, dubbed the ‘Facebook Files’.  

The difference between the last leak of documents and this one is that Facebook got out ahead this time. Facebook announced on Twitter last week this was going to happen, warning, “right now 30+ journalists are finishing up a coordinated series of articles based on thousands of pages of leaked documents. Facebook criticised the move by journalists, saying in another tweet, “a curated selection out of millions of documents at Facebook can in no way be used to draw fair conclusions about us [..]”.

Each individual outlet did its own reporting, meaning there was a LOT of information available. 

That brings us to yesterday, when the news organisations began releasing their articles 

Some key findings from the reporting: 

1) According to The Verge and Platformer, countries are sorted into an internal tier system by Facebook, with each tier offering a different set of protections for users in those countries. The tier system dictates the number of resources allocated to moderate content.  

2) The Verge also reported, in October 2019, Apple threatened Facebook with the removal of Instagram and Facebook from the App Store if the company did not address the human trafficking content on the platforms. In response, Facebook did a moderation sweep of content on the platforms, after the issue was escalated by Apple. 

3) Reports confirmed “Facebook’s Integrity team had lots of ideas for how to make Facebook less harmful, but they were usually overruled, sometimes by Zuckerberg himself.” 

4) A proposed plan to hide the number of likes on Instagram posts (tested in Australia) was not adopted due to a decline in the number of users that engaged with the app, and less resulting ad revenue. Instead, Facebook adopted an option for users to hide likes on their posts.

5) Facebook employees were concerned about misinformation, especially in the lead-up to the 2020 U.S. Presidential election. According to the New York Times, internal complaints were often ignored. The Times further reported, “[…] a company data scientist wrote in a note to his co-workers that 10% of all U.S. views of political material – a startlingly high figure – were of posts that alleged the vote was fraudulent”.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg did address the Facebook Papers saying “good faith criticism helps us get better, but my view is that we are seeing a coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to paint a false picture of our company”.

How the Facebook Papers will impact Facebook in both the short and long term, and whether relevant policy changes will be made, remains unclear. 

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