Commentary

Facebook's Petition Feature Comes Under Fire

Did Facebook just sow the seeds of its next major scandal -- or something far worse?

That’s how skeptics are viewing Community Actions -- a new feature designed to help users launch, spread and support online petitions.

Among other components, Community Actions encourages petition makers to tag public officials and relevant organizations.

Like Facebook Groups, Community Actions is also designed as a platform for likeminded folks to mull over their causes and hash out differences, as well as create events and fundraisers.

For example, a group named Colorado Rising -- which describes itself as a “movement to protect communities and future generations from the dangers of fossil fuel activities” -- just launched a Community Actions page dubbed Moratorium on New Drilling.

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Regardless of Facebook’s good intentions, cynics say the new feature is just begging for abuse and misuse on a mass scale.  

“How long before Facebook’s new petition feature is complicit in genocide?” Gizmodo asks.  The question is a reference to the suggestion by U.N. investigators that Facebook contributed to ethnic genocide in Myanmar in 2016. Two years later, Facebook admitted it didn’t act quickly enough stop the spread of ethnic hate and violence across Myanmar.

In response, the tech titan has sought to develop better technology to identify hate speech, improve reporting tools, and add additional human content reviewers.

Putting significant resources behind the effort, Facebook said its total expenses grew by as much as 60% from 2017 to 2018 in light of the policing campaign.

Yet, mass manipulations and abuses remain a regular occurrence across Facebook-owned properties.

Just last week, the social giant identified two more coordinated campaigns -- both likely Russian-backed -- to flood its network with politicized misinformation.

Why is Facebook responding to this ongoing and unresolved problem by adding services sure to serve the ends of bad actors? Perhaps, its endlessly idealistic leaders believe the service's potential good outweighs the potential bad.  

Let’s hope reality doesn’t prove otherwise. 
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