By Douglas Andrews
Leaked internal documents show that the company’s platforms favor the elite and are especially harmful to teenage girls.
When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg brags that his social media empire allows more than three billion suckers users to speak on equal footing with the elites, and that its standards of behavior apply to everyone, he’s, well — how shall we put this gently? — lying like Scranton Joe Biden.
In fact, according to internal Facebook documents turned over by a whistleblower to The Wall Street Journal, Zuckerberg and his co-conspirators employ a “whitelisting” system called “cross check,” which allows the rich and famous — celebrities, politicians, even journalists — to get away with posting behavior that would get the rest of us banned. How many of these “elite” users are we talking about? More than 5.8 million as of 2020, according to the documents.
In one of the most egregious examples of Facebook’s privileged approach, Brazilian soccer star Neymar posted “revenge porn” of a woman who’d accused him of rape. Facebook’s policy for the posting of non-consensual intimate images is, rightly, to remove them immediately. But the company’s cross-check program allowed these nude images of Neymar’s accuser to remain up for more than a day, allowing some 56 million Facebook and Instagram users to see not only the images but the name of the woman.
So much for Zuck’s “equal footing.” Or perhaps, as on Orwell’s Animal Farm, some of us are simply more equal than others. As the Journal reports:
A 2019 internal review of Facebook’s whitelisting practices, marked attorney-client privileged, found favoritism to those [elite] users to be both widespread and “not publicly defensible.”
“We are not actually doing what we say we do publicly,” said the confidential review. It called the company’s actions “a breach of trust” and added: “Unlike the rest of our community, these people can violate our standards without any consequences.”
Unless you’re Donald Trump. In that case, Facebook will ban you for two years. (Good luck with your lawsuit, Mr. President.)
To be sure, not everyone at Facebook is comfortable with its double standard. “One of the fundamental reasons I joined FB,” said Samidh Chakrabarti, who headed the company’s Civic Team, “is that I believe in its potential to be a profoundly democratizing force that enables everyone to have an equal civic voice. So having different rules on speech for different people is very troubling to me.”
Of course, we’ve long known Big Tech to be rotten, even evil. This is just more hickory for the bonfire. And the Journal says this revelation is merely “the first in a series of articles,” so Zuck and his team of liars might want to assume the position.
It’d be one thing if Facebook were only making consenting adults miserable. But a separate Journal article shows how Instagram, Facebook’s photo-sharing app, is particularly harmful to teenage girls. “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” said one internal slide from 2019. “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” said another. And according to one internal presentation that studied teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram.
Back in March, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee requested Facebook’s internal research on how social media affect children. “Facebook refused to comply with our request and we now know why,” said ranking Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers. “This also leaves us wondering what else they are hiding. We will continue to demand transparency from Facebook and other Big Tech companies, especially as it relates to the harm their products have on our children.”
Facebook is currently valued at more than $1 trillion. Color us shocked — SHOCKED — to learn that Mark Zuckerberg and his money-grubbing leadership team would refuse to share their research on the damage their platforms are doing to our children.
Twenty-four years ago, the Federal Trade Commission charged R.J. Reynolds with causing “substantial injury to the health and safety of children” by way of its “Joe Camel” advertising campaign. Were we a saner, healthier society, we’d be holding the Big Tech oligarchs to a similar standard today.