Facebook gives priority to earnings and false information

UNSPLASH/Robin Worrall

Despite the fact that server crashes on large platforms jeopardise their users’ personal data, the experts say that one of the largest Facebook and Instagram problems lies in their algorithms. The algorithms are oriented by users’ engagement. In other words, the content that has the highest engagement, measured by likes, comments and shares, Facebook pushes towards the top. This fact indicates a negative state of the health of our population because statistics show that the content that is most shared is also the most polarising, which often leads to the spread of misinformation or destabilisation of world orders.

The question that is asked more and more is what Facebook plans to do to fix their algorithms’ designs and strengthen the systems that verify the accuracy of the information shared via its platforms.

The recent appearance of the latest whistle-blower, Francis Haugen, is confirmed by the research that proves that Facebook gives priority to earnings over security. Haugen has come out in public with the results of numerous internal investigations that show that the content people share fuels hatred more than any other type of engagement, which means that the people of Facebook are more than aware of that. Haugen will, after testifying in front of the US Congress, on October 25th, testify in front of the British parliament. After that, she will share her findings with the European Parliament on November 8th. Gong supports the European Union bodies’ initiatives, but also the positive examples from the United States of America. They try to point out that the problem the technology has created is not necessarily solvable by using more technology and a different design, but that it requires the involvement of the civil society and stricter legislations.

The Darkness on Zuckerberg’s platforms

Facebook, its Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, which collectively have more than 2,5 billion users and are, by that criteria, the most popular apps in the world, were “down” on September 29th for almost 8 hours. Their servers crashed and it resulted in general chaos in the internet communication. Many new users signed-up for Twitter and other apps for texting were used more, such as Signal and Telegram. Those apps are becoming more and more popular due to better message encryption and better guarantee of personal data safety.

In the last couple of years, civil society organisations in Europe and North America have pointed out the general problem of Facebook’s and its founder Mark Zuckerberg’s monopoly over social media, as well as shortcomings and harmfulness of their algorithms and advertising systems. Even before this server failure, which left the whole world and all the users of the mentioned social media in the dark, we were aware of our own dependence on them.

Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are not just social media

It seems that we have now become more aware of the dangers that this type of shutdown poses, even for the less developed countries, such as Ghana. They use Facebook as practically the only window into the world of the internet and information. In the northern hemisphere, where the internet has been widely available for the majority of the population for almost three decades, the culture of using social media is marked by leisure and entertainment. On the other side of the world, for example, in Latin America, everything – organising protests, locations of safe houses for victims of violence, information on new epidemiological measures, warnings of danger – is communicated almost exclusively via WhatsApp messages.

Also, apart from private communication via Facebook’s platforms, in some parts of the world the only possibilities for selling one’s own products and handicrafts are Instagram and Facebook. Setting up an online store costs money, and there are almost no additional costs for Facebook Marketplace and Instagram Shopping users. The losses due to this shutdown are enormous. Once Facebook (and later the companies Zuckerberg bought to eliminate competition) took over the world, it crept into every pore of our existence and many internet platform experts believe that even breaking Facebook’s monopoly network would not reduce the impact that the social media has on our lives.

As a reminder, Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) voted on November 8th on a Proposal for the amendment of the EU’s digital services law. The last two weeks have shaken the world of social media, which is already on shaky ground anyway, because instead of its role in connecting society, there is more and more talk about how it separates it.

Gong already wrote about large platforms and their harmful algorithms when we signed the open letter which calls for stricter control of the algorithms.

Gong is a beneficiary of operational support – structural support to European think-do-tanks in the unit “Democratic and Civic Participation”, under the Europe for Citizens program.

Gong is the Center of Knowledge in the field of civil activism and building of democratic institutions in the society, within the framework of the Development cooperation with the National Foundation for Civil Society Development.

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