Recent remarks by the CEO of Meta Platforms on the moderation of sensitive content cause a stir.
And most often, these controversies are provoked by decisions taken by one of his platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger or WhatsApp). It must be said that Facebook, which had 2.93 billion monthly active users as of June 30, is the social network that causes the most problems.
It was revealed after the 2016 Presidential election that the platform allowed Cambridge Analytica, a consulting firm which partnered with Donald Trump campaign team ahead of the 2016 presidential election, to harvest private data from tens of millions of its users that allowed it to profile voters.
Facebook paid a record $5 billion fine to the Federal Trade Commission in 2019 over the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The social network is still facing complaints filed against it in this resounding scandal which has brought to light certain practices deemed controversial by the company.
One Controversy After Another
Cambridge Analytica also played a role in the 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK which saw an extensive Russian disinformation campaign.
Arguably, the company’s biggest blow to date came last year from Frances Haugen, a former product manager, who revealed herself as the whistleblower behind a series of documents leaked to the Wall Street Journal during an interview on the CBS show “60 Minutes.
Haugen, who would later testify before Senate lawmakers, accused the social media giant of putting profits over the impact of hate speech.
“There were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook,” she said. “Facebook over and over again chose to optimize for its own interests like making more money.”
Facebook denied the allegations, stating that “to suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true…We continue to make significant improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content.”
But you have to believe that when it comes to Facebook, one controversy chases another. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has just caused one himself. During his recent participation in the podcast of the very controversial Joe Rogan, the Chief Executive Officer claimed that the decision of the company in October 2020 to limit the distribution of a damaging New York Post article on Hunter Biden, the son of then Democratic candidate Joe Biden a month away from the election, was due to warnings from the FBI to be “vigilant” after Russian propaganda surged in the 2016 presidential election.
“We just kind of thought, hey, look, if the FBI, which I still view as a legitimate institution in this country, is very professional law enforcement, if they come to us and tell us that we need to be on guard about something then I’m going to take that seriously,” Zuckerberg told Rogan.
‘Being Proven Innocent in the End Sucks’
He added, however, that after a group of employees thoroughly checked the New York Post article, none of the fact-checkers could really tell if it was false. He nevertheless recognized that it was an annoying situation for the company.
it “sucks,” Zuckerberg explained “in the same way that probably having to go through a criminal trial, but being proven innocent in the end sucks.”
“I think the process was pretty reasonable. You know, we still let people share it, but obviously you don’t want situations like that.”
Zuckerberg’s statements sparked outrage among conservatives and fans of former President Donald Trump, forcing Meta Platforms to issue a series of tweets in an attempt to quell the controversy.
“None of this is new. Mark testified before the Senate nearly two years ago that in the lead up to the 2020 election, the FBI warned about the threat of foreign hack and leak operations,” said one of the tweets.
“Consistent with our policy, after 7 days, we lifted the demotion because it wasn’t rated false by independent fact-checkers,” the company added. “We took that seriously, and as Mark said when he testified, we didn’t block the New York Post story, we temporarily reduced its distribution to give fact-checking partners time to review it.”
The FBI Responds
Meta was not the only social media that reduced the circulation of this article, which alleged that a recovered version of Hunter Biden’s laptop included emails that indicated Joe Biden used his position as vice president of president Barack Obama to help his son’s business dealings in Ukraine. Twitter did the same thing. Jack Dorsey, the microblogging site’s cofounder and CEO at the time, said it was a “wrong” decision.
FBI responds to Zuckerberg’s claims, saying it often notifies US companies of “foreign” threats: “The FBI routinely notifies U.S. private sector entities, including social media providers, of potential threat information, so that they can decide how to better defend against threats,” the federal agency said.
The firm reacted very quickly to the FBI statement.
“As we’ve said, nothing about the Hunter Biden laptop story is new. Below is what Mark told Sen. Johnson in Oct 2020 and what Mark told Joe Rogan this week. The FBI shared general warnings about foreign interference – nothing specific about Hunter Biden,” Meta said on Twitter.