A huge trove of documents from inside Facebook has been released, showing the company’s struggle to stay in control of its app and its image.
The discussions reveal staff warnings that the company was making mistakes in how it dealt with the content that its users post on its platform. It also shows concern for the damage it could be doing to its users, its attempts to fix that – and its fears that younger users are simply not using the site.
The documents show that Facebook employees are raising those concerns, and that the issues are leading to large amounts of internal dissent.
“I have seen many colleagues that are extremely frustrated and angry, while at the same time, feeling powerless and (disheartened) about the current situation,” wrote one employee, whose name was redacted, after Donald Trump suggested that protestors could be shot. “My view is, if you want to fix Facebook, do it within,” the staffer wrote, according to the Associated Press.
They are likely to lead to yet more accusations that Facebook has looked to prioritise the engagement of its users over their safety, by promoting inflammatory or otherwise unhealthy content within its news feed and on its site.
Much of the reporting of the documents examines how Facebook responded to threats of violence ahead of the 6 January protests, which would eventually become deadly riots. It shows how technical difficulties meant that it was unable to stop people being recommended civic groups to millions of people, for instance, despite launching a crackdown in an attempt to stop unrest spreading.
The files also show how different those standards are across different countries, and how Facebook has struggled to police content in countries that don’t speak English. Many places that are at significant risk of war and other major harms are also not covered by many of Facebook’s more developed protections, such as artificial intelligence tools that can detect hate speech and misinformation, and extra staff to deal with potential problems more quickly, as pointed out by The Verge.
They also show how Facebook has to weigh up complying with censorship and limits on free speech in the various countries in which it operates, weighing up whether it should comply with restrictions to ensure that it is able to stay lucrative markets.
The files, which detail internal conversations on Facebook’s message boards, are just the latest difficult leak for Facebook, which has seen a host of information released to the public in recent weeks. Some of the documents were the basis of those reports, in the Wall Street Journal, which revealed among other things that Facebook seemed to be aware that Instagram was toxic for young girls.
The existence of the new set of documents had been pre-emptively attacked by Facebook, which said that a “curated selection out of millions of documents at Facebook can in no way be used to draw fair conclusions about us”. The files had been made available to some 30 different US news organisations before they were published on Monday, and Facebook had attempted to discredit them before they were published.