Wednesday, December 1, 2021

‘Facebook Papers’ hit as platform reports billions in profit

Facebook has assailed the reporting as the selective publication of some of its mountain of internal studies aimed at casting the social network in a dark and inaccurate light.

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Facebook announced over US$9 billion in quarterly profits on Monday, hours after a US news collective published a deluge of withering reports arguing the company prioritises its growth over people’s safety.

The social media giant has been battling a fresh crisis since former employee Frances Haugen leaked reams of internal studies showing executives knew of their sites’ potential for harm, prompting a renewed US push for regulation.

Facebook released results showing its profit in the recently-ended quarter grew to US$9.2 billion – a 17% increase – and its ranks of users increased to 2.91 billion.

Facebook executives said on an earnings call that the tech titan would have brought in even more money if not for Apple updating its iPhone operating system to thwart advertisers tracking app users for ad targeting without permission.

“Overall, if it wasn’t for Apple’s iOS 14 changes, we would have seen positive quarter over quarter revenue growth,” Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said of the iPhone software tweak made in the name of protecting privacy.

Hours earlier, new reports blamed CEO Mark Zuckerberg for his platform bending to state censors in Vietnam, noted Facebook allowed hate speech to flourish internationally due to linguistic shortcomings and said it knew its algorithm fueled toxic polarisation online.

“These damning documents underscore that Facebook leadership chronically ignored serious internal alarms, choosing to put profits over people,” US Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Big Tech critic, said in a statement.

News organisations like The New York Times, The Washington Post and Wired were among those that have now received access to the set of internal Facebook documents that Haugen originally leaked to US authorities and which were the basis of a damning Wall Street Journal series.

Facebook has assailed the reporting as an effort to cast the social network used by billions of people in an inaccurate light.

“Good faith criticism helps us get better, but my view is that what we are seeing is a coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to paint a false picture of our company,” Zuckerberg said in an earnings call.

Behind the curtain

Haugen, who testified on social media before British lawmakers Monday, has repeatedly said the company puts its continuous growth, and thus profits, before the well-being and safety of users.

“Facebook has been unwilling to accept even little slivers of profit being sacrificed for safety, and that’s not acceptable,” she told the lawmakers, adding that angry or hate-fuelled content “is the easiest way to grow” the social media platform.

Facebook has been hit by major crises previously, but the current view behind the curtain of the insular company has fuelled a frenzy of scathing reports and a renewed push from US lawmakers to crack down on social media.

The Washington Post story out Monday said Zuckerberg had personally signed off on a push from Vietnam’s authoritarian government to limit the spread of so-called “anti-state” posts.

A report from Politico called the documents a “treasure trove for Washington’s anti-trust fight” against the platform, revealing internal employee chats about Facebook global dominance.

One of Monday’s reports, from website The Verge, plunged into the company’s own worries for its future.

“Teenage users of the Facebook app in the US had declined by 13% since 2019 and were projected to drop 45% over the next two years, driving an overall decline in daily users in the company’s most lucrative ad market,” the story said, citing internal company research.

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