The Facebook Papers are based on leaks from former Facebook staffer Frances Haugen and other inside sources. Haugen has appeared before US Congress, British Parliament, and given prominent television interviews. Among the allegations raised are that Facebook:
- Knows that its algorithms lead users to extreme content and that it employs too few staff or contractors to curb such content, especially in languages other than English. Content glorifying violence and hate therefore spreads on Facebook – which really should know better by now after the The New York Times in 2018 reported that Myanmar’s military used Facebook to spread racist propaganda that led to mass violence against minority groups;
- Enforces its rules selectively, allowing certain celebrities and websites to get away with behavior that would get others kicked off the platform. Inconsistent enforcement means users don’t get the protection from harmful content Facebook has so often promised, implying that it prioritises finding eyeballs for ads ahead of user safety;
- Planned a special version of Instagram targeting teenagers, but cancelled it after Haugen revealed the site’s effects on some users – up to three per cent of teenage girls experience depression or anxiety, or self-harm, as a result of using the service;
- Can’t accurately assess user numbers and may be missing users with multiple accounts. The Social Network™ may therefore have misrepresented its reach to advertisers, or made its advertising look more super-targeted than it really is – or both;
- Just isn’t very good at spotting the kind of content it says has no place on its platform – like human trafficking – yes, that means selling human beings on Facebook. At one point Apple was so upset by the prevalence of Facebook posts of this sort it threatened to banish Zuckerberg’s software from the App Store.