Facebook is undoubtedly the biggest social network globally. Whether business, parties, events and any other activity, you will find them all on the platform. On the downside, criminals and villains may also use the platform to execute their plans.
In that context, the network is said to have prematurely shut down safeguards designed to combat misinformation and rabble-rousing after President Joe Biden defeated Trump in the 2020’s elections. Facebook is accused to have made that decision in a moneymaking move that one company whistleblower claims resulted in the deadly January 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol.
The whistleblower, 37-year-old ex-Facebook product manager Frances Haugen, also insisted during an October 3, 2021, exclusive interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that a 2018 significant alteration to the content flow in Facebook’s news feeds resulted in more divisiveness and ill will. This happened contrary to the primary reason why the network was created, which is to bring people together.
Despite the enmity that was created by the new algorithms, Facebook discovered that they attracted users repeatedly. This pattern enabled the social network to sell more digital ads that generated most of its advertising contracts. Haugen highlighted:
“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook. And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money.”
She joined Facebook in 2019 after previously working at Pinterest and Google.
Facebook’s annual revenue has surged significantly from $56 billion in 2019 to an expected $119 billion in 2021, according to the estimates of FactSet analysts. In the meantime, the firm’s market value has surged from $375 billion three years ago to about $1 trillion currently.
The Facebook Expose
Even before the full interview was aired. One top-ranking Facebook executive derided Haugen’s allegations as misleading. The social network’s vice president of policy and public affairs, Nick Clegg, wrote to company employees in a memo sent on October 1:
“Social media has had a big impact on society in recent years, and Facebook is often a place where much of this debate plays out. But what evidence there is simply does not support the idea that Facebook, or social media more generally, is the primary cause of polarization.”
This “60 Minutes” interview increased the pressure already directed toward Facebook as regulators and legislators globally keenly review the social networking’s intensive power to shape different opinions and its revolutionary effects on communities around the world.
The backlash has increased since The Wall Street Journal’s mid-September publication. That publication featured an expose that revealed Facebook’s internal research had discovered that the platform’s attention-seeking algorithms helped underpin political dissent. Hence, it resulted in mental health issues and emotional challenges among teens, mostly girls.
Related: The DOJ proposes new legislation that would hold Facebook, Google and Twitter liable for harmful content posted by users
Haugen copied thousands of Facebook’s internal research pages and leaked them to the Journal to offer the foundation a succession of ‘The Facebook Files’ stories.
The Social Network Responded
Facebook said that the Journal had focused on the most damaging information in the internal documents aiming to showcase the social network in the worst possible scenario.
This expose prompted an indefinite delay in the rollout of a kids’ version of its famous photo- and video-sharing app, Instagram. Facebook stipulates that all people using its platform must be over 13 years old to open an Instagram account.
Clegg tried to contain this fallout in a 1,500-word memo warning the Facebook staff that the whistleblower interview might put them in a hard place. They were told to expect more hard questions and issues from friends and family about the social network’s corrosive side effects.
The executive then appeared on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” program on October 3 in a pre-emptive trial to ease the blow of the bombshell unleashed on “60 Minutes.” Clegg told CNN:
“Even with the most sophisticated technology, which I believe we deploy, even with the tens of thousands of people that we employ to try and maintain safety and integrity on our platform. We’re never going to be absolutely on top of this 100% of the time. That’s because of the instantaneous and spontaneous form of communication on Facebook. I think we do more than any reasonable person can expect to.”
The whistleblower filed eight complaints with the United States securities regulators claiming that Facebook has violated the law by its decision to withhold information about the risks that are brought about by its social network, according to “60 Minutes.”
On its part, Facebook can take legal action against Haugen on grounds that she stole the company’s confidential information. She said during her interview:
“No one at Facebook is malevolent. But the incentives are misaligned, right? Like, Facebook makes more money when you consume more content. people enjoy engaging with things that elicit an emotional reaction. And the more anger that they get exposed to, the more they interact and the more they consume.”
The social network is not new in the corridors of Justice. In August 2020, Facebook vowed to take legal action after it was compelled to block the Thai anti-royalty group.
Facebook Services Go Dark And Stock Slides
On October 4, 2021, Facebook services experienced unexpected outages for over six hours and this added to the platform’s already miserable period. Notably, Instagram and WhatsApp went down as well. Experts believe that the extensive connections that exist between the three platforms resulted in simultaneous outages.
Shares suffered the biggest drop in almost a year, losing 4.9% to trade at $326.23 for their worst single-day percentage decline since the 5% drop on November 9, 2020. The stock even outpaced the S&P 500 index’s 1.3% loss and a 2.1% loss on the Nasdaq Composite Index that is tech-heavy.
The decline came after Haugen’s whistleblower’s allegations were aired where she said that the company placed profits before safety. According to the former Facebook data scientist, Facebook has been deceiving investors about how it deals with hate speech and misinformation.
Haugen will testify before Congress on October 5, 2021, and she seeks whistleblower protection in complaints that were filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The Unprecedented Outage
Amid all the ‘chaos’, there was a widespread outage of Facebook services, including WhatsApp and Instagram. This outage started before noon Eastern time. Notably, even the status dashboard that Facebook uses to communicate its operations and availability to developers was not working. Downdetector said that the latest outage was unprecedented.
The situation worsened extremely that by late afternoon the issue could not be fixed remotely. Engineers at one of the firm’s main data centers had to reboot servers manually. The email was the only remaining method of communication since the internal systems were also down, according to reports.
A company spokesman took to Twitter to confirm the outage. Andy Stone said:
“We’re aware that some people are having trouble accessing our apps and products. We’re working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible, and we apologize for any inconvenience.”
Facebook did not elaborate on the cause of this outage but experts highlighted on Twitter that it seemed to be an issue with the platform’s domain-name system (DNS). Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer later confirmed via Twitter that the firm was having ‘networking issues.’
The New York Times reported that the social media company had sent a team to a California data center. The team went to try to reboot servers manually as staff members were locked out of systems and could not access the firm’s buildings since their systems had locked down.
After six hours of outage, Facebook confirmed via Twitter that its platforms were once again accessible. Amid all this flurry of activities, Facebook filed a motion to dismiss the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) updated antitrust lawsuit against the firm. The social network said that the agency’s complaint still lacked compelling evidence that Facebook violated antitrust regulations.
The firm said in its filing to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia:
“This court gave the agency a second chance to make a valid claim. But the same deficiency that was fatal to the FTC’s initial complaint remains: the amended complaint still pleads no facts plausibly establishing that Facebook has, and at all relevant times had, monopoly power.”
The motion was expected since CEO Mark Zuckerberg vowed to relentlessly fight all government and any form of attempt to impede the firm via antitrust action.
The FTC refiled its case in August 2021 under the stewardship of new chair Lina Khan. In this case, the regulator said that Facebook used its billion-dollar financial muscle to acquire WhatsApp and Instagram which enabled it to “buy or bury” competition. FTC wants Facebook to be broken up. The presiding judge has until mid-November to respond to the motion filed by Facebook to dismiss the case.
Despite the twists and turns, the Facebook stock has gained 19.4% so far in 2021, exceeding the 14.5% growth of the S&P 500 index within the same period. Notably, the shares have more than doubled in value in the last three years as the S&P 500 gained 50%.
Facebook Aims To Develop The Metaverse Responsibly
‘Metaverse’ is currently the buzzword for Facebook and the fictional, virtual world is referred to be the future of the Internet. The social network firm aims to start working on the gargantuan project of creating this new universe by investing $50 million over two years. But, the concept will take 10 to 15 years before the vast project becomes a reality.
With $50 million, Facebook says that it can develop the Metaverse responsibly in partnership with top-ranked universities. With its sheer amount of content generated and billions of users, Facebook is in a position to develop a titan among giants.
The social network is building a huge team of more than 10,000 people working on virtual reality and augmented reality tools. This is definitely a small army.
CEO ark Zuckerberg believes that the metaverse will bring many opportunities to artists, creators, and people who wish to escape the urban dynamics world. Also, the virtual spaces might be perfect for creators to ensure that recreation and education would be accessible to all, regardless of social differences.
The creator says that the metaverse is the closest thing one can get to a teleportation device since the probability of changing worlds and universes might be infinite. Although the positive aspects of the metaverses are many, the questions that they raise are important.
Among the reservations, many wonder how Facebook will manage a whole alternative universe when it currently has issues managing its initial version. How will this elusive universe be regulated? Furthermore, the success of this project will depend majorly on massive and efficient interoperability between Facebook’s products and services and other operators in the market.
With the latest Haugen expose, the development of the Metaverse is expected to receive a huge blow with more antitrust suits and issues expected to come up in the future. If it will succeed, Facebook needs to address the ethical and moral questions raised by its futuristic project.