Following Mark Zuckerberg’s Herculean New Year’s resolution to fix problems of abuse, hate, and foreign interference in elections on Facebook, the social media giant has released a newsroom post by executives of the company admitting that Facebook may not be good for democracy in its current form.
Well, the first step is acknowledging a problem at least… Even if the problem is astronomically bad. A Facebook product manager in charge of civic engagement, Samidh Chakrabarti, said:
“Social media, like all technology, amplifies human intent –both good and bad. At its best, it allows us to express ourselves and take action. At its worst, it allows people to spread misinformation and corrode democracy.”
The effectiveness of what Facebook does next will have a global impact: 87 percent of governments around the world have a Facebook presence, and there are roughly 2 billion users.
The frank discussions admit that Facebook was used as an “information weapon” by Russia to disrupt the 2016 presidential elections through a “cyberwar intended to divide society.”
Entitled, “Hard Questions: Social Media and Democracy,” the article introduces critiques from Chakrabarti, and Cass R. Sunstein, a professor at Harvard Law School who recently wrote an editorial entitled, “Trump’s ugly assault on the First Amendment.”
Subjects that Facebook will be investigating include stopping the proliferation of “Fake News,” countering “Echo Chambers,” hate speech, and “Political Harassment.”
Facebook will attempt to counter the effects of confirmation bias, in which people seek only news that confirms their current views. To help combat this tendency, they will show many views, not just opposing views, which tend to be rejected as heresy outright.
The effort to reduce group polarization will be a priority, a common and sometimes dangerous outcome of echo chambers, which serve to entrench people in positions, making them less open to diverse views. Sunstein wrote:
“If you live in an information cocoon, you will believe many things that are false, and you will fail to learn countless things that are true. That’s awful for democracy.”
Meanwhile, it’s not just in America that Facebook has been used as an effective weapon against democracy.
BuzzFeed detailed how the Facebook platform has been used by developing countries to “crush dissent,” spread propaganda, and attack democracy. In Cambodia, propaganda news described as a “Cambodian take on Breitbart” was used to attack an opposition party official, which led to his jailing.
The Prime Minister, Hun Sen fabricated the story and claimed a plot to overthrow the government was underway.
“Democracy in the country had collapsed, and it was broadcast to millions on Facebook,” wrote Megha Rajagopalan.
The discussion about political harassment such as what happened in Cambodia indicates this will be an ongoing and incredibly serious problem, although Facebook will hire 10,000 people this year to work on security, safety, and to moderate content. Currently, the company has more than 23,000 employees.
— Slate (@Slate) January 22, 2018
Chakrabarti believes that ultimately Facebook can help people connect with their communities constructively, though he couldn’t guarantee the positives will outweigh the negatives. Chakrabarti said:
“I believe that a more connected world can be a more democratic one too.”
Will Facebook be able to make their impact more overall positive, or will the platform continue to corrode democracy around the world in 2018? One thing is for sure: Many Americans will be watching Facebook closely in upcoming elections, once bitten and twice shy about the menace of ongoing Russian interference.
Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube video.