Facebook's Latest Reckoning: Will Anything Change?

The fallout continues from the revelations made by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former product manager who leaked thousands of documents to The Wall Street Journal, in addition to testifying before Congress and filing complaints with the Security and Exchange Commission.

Earlier this month, Haugen revealed her identity on "60 Minutes." Now she’s set to appear before the Facebook Oversight Board, that entity announced this week.



The documents Haugen leaked showed that Facebook’s platforms — including Instagram and What’s App — do damage in numerous ways, such as spreading anti-democratic disinformation and reinforcing political biases, therefore splintering the society and its political stability.

Further, the company knows it serves harmful content to young users, allows elites to skirt its rules, and provides a platform to authoritarian leaders that raise national security concerns.

In the opening of its “Facebook Files” Investigation, the Journal wrote, “Time and again, the documents show, Facebook’s researchers have identified the platform’s ill effects. Time and again, despite congressional hearings, its own pledges and numerous media exposés, the company didn’t fix them. The documents offer perhaps the clearest picture thus far of how broadly Facebook’s problems are known inside the company, up to the chief executive himself.”

As the Journal notes, none of this is really new.

We’ve known that Facebook engages in aggressive, borderline shady, business practices. We’ve known the social damage it does. We’ve known about the addictive nature of the platform. And we’ve known that Facebook — one half of the duopoly along with Google — has dominated digital advertising to the massive detriment of the entire media industry.

Indeed, Facebook ad revenue for the first half of 2021 was about $54.6 billion, including a 56% increase for the second quarter over the prior year

The old magazine industry doesn’t report revenue figures any more, but that first-half figure from Facebook would represent a great full year for the publishing industry — a performance likely not seen in decades.

But here’s the thing: Consumers love to hate Facebook, but they don’t stop using it. The company just keeps growing. Daily active users, to cite one metric, were 1.91 billion on average for June 2021, an increase of 7% year-over-year. Headcount at the company was 63,404 as of June 30, 2021, an increase of 21% year-over-year.

Media companies love the reach Facebook brings them, but they hardly ever give a thought to the damage the company is doing to the country — or their businesses, or their customers.

For its part, the Congress is too hopelessly divided, or too lacking in tech savvy, to act. Even after Haugen’s bombshell leaks, there’s not really much reason to think anything will change. 

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