This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. This is the collection of past column.
A pile of internal communications gives us a rare, flawless look at Facebook’s self-examination and deliberation on how people are influenced by the company’s decisions and product design. company.
Perhaps the public and Facebook would benefit if these glimpses weren’t so rare. Facebook and other internet powerhouses can help us understand the world by showing us a little more about the messy reality of running virtual hangouts for billions of people.
One thing that pleasantly surprised me from the report on documents collected by Frances Haugen, a former product manager at Facebook, was the level of thought and interest Facebook employees had in evaluating apps. companies and how they shape what people do and how. community and social behaviour. Facebook, show us this side of you.
Casey Newton, a technology writer, made this case last month: “What if Facebook regularly published its findings and allowed their data to be examined? What if the company made it significantly easier for qualified researchers to study the platform independently? “
And what if other companies in the tech sector did the same?
Imagine if Facebook had clarified the ways in which it struggled with restricting posts with fraudulent misinformation after the 2020 US presidential election and whether that was at risk. silence legitimate political discussions or not.
What if Facebook shared with the public its private reviews of ways to easily share multiple posts, amplifying posts of a hateful or bullying nature?
Imagine if Facebook employees involved in major product design changes – like US Supreme Court justices – could write down dissenting opinions explaining disagreements. theirs to the public.
I know that some, or all, of that sounds like a fantasy. Organizations have good reason to keep secrets, including to protect their employees and customers.
But Facebook is no ordinary organization. It’s one of the very few corporations whose products help shape how people behave and what we believe in.
Learning more about what Facebook knows about the world will help improve our understanding of each other and of Facebook. It will give outsiders a chance to validate, challenge, and add to Facebook’s self-assessment. And it can make the company a little more trustworthy and understandable.
Facebook has said that it believes its internal communications report lacks nuance and context. Its response includes curbing internal considerations to minimize leaks. And in my conversation with tech insiders this week, there was a fear that Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and others would respond to the tough reporting weeks on Facebook by being less probing about the impact of the news. use of their products or keep what they learn and Keys private.
But another way is to be more open and revealing. That is absolutely nothing special for Facebook.
In 2015, the company publicly released and discussed research by its data scientists showing that social media does not exacerbate the problem of “filter bubbles,” in which people just see information that confirms their beliefs. In 2018, Mark Zuckerberg published a lengthy post detailing the company’s examination of how people on Facebook responded to material that was offensive or derogatory. The same year, Facebook revealed an ambitious plan to share large amounts of posts and other user data with outside researchers to research harmful information.
These efforts are not perfect. Notably, the independent research team was fooled by fake data and disputes over protecting people’s privacy. But the efforts show that Facebook at one point wanted to be more open.
Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford Law School professor who was previously a co-chair of the research association, recently drafted legislation that could grant independent researchers access to information about the practice. inside of internet companies.
He told me that he sees the research complex as a “killer highway to something glorious,” which will be voluntarily and forced to be transparent by the big internet companies. He praised Twitter, which last week released a analysis In some cases, their computer systems amplified the views of the right more than those of the left.
Twitter’s research is incomplete. The company said it did not know why some messages were circulated more than others. But Twitter has been honest about what it knows and doesn’t, and gives the public and researchers the opportunity to investigate further. It shows us the mess.
Understanding Facebook documents
A tech giant in trouble. The leak of a former Facebook employee’s internal documents has provided an insight into the secretive social media company’s operations and continues to call for better regulations on broad reach. of the company to the lives of its users.
More on Facebook from New York Times Comments:
Farhad Manjoo: The erroneous congressional proposals to fix Facebook are worse than no law at all.
Greg Bensinger: “Facebook has proven that it won’t solve systemic problems until forced to do so. Now, it appears, only advertisers can make the status quo unprofitable and unsustainable.”
Kara Swisher: Mark Zuckerberg is no longer a beloved leader and cultural highlight at Facebook.
Before we go…
Tech giants are still very profitable: Google and Microsoft earn $$$$. Twitter is also doing well.
Do you upload your passport to watch YouTube? My colleague David McCabe reports that many companies and countries are opting for digital age checks to try to keep young children away from everything from video games to online pornography. But it’s hard to balance the benefits of online anonymity while keeping kids safe.
Amazon is breaking into talk radio, something like: The Verge writes that Amazon is building a new app that will allow anyone to create a live audio show and allow listeners to be enthralled with their voice. Is this clever or weird, or both?
this is a Twitter thread about cows and beans like them. For real. (I saw this first in the Junk Day newsletter.)