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We’re Smarter About Facebook Now


This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is the collection past columns

In the major Facebook scandals over the past five years, some chilling details or breathtaking findings are not true. But each of them brought us closer to important truths about how Facebook affects our lives.

In 2016, the worst fears were that Russian propaganda fire on Facebook convinced a bunch of Americans to vote for Donald Trump. In 2018, people talked about how the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica had brainwashed us. the data they collected from Facebook users… Not entirely true.

During the firestorms, the Kremlin, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook received too much attention, and too little human free will.

And during Facebook’s daytime crisis started whistleblower claims that the company has repeatedly prioritized its short-term corporate interests for the good of humanity, some of the nuances have probably been lost. Instagram’s internal research on the app’s effect on the mental health of teenage girls doesn’t seem convincing, as some researchers have told me. NPR reported

So yeah, we were all wrong about Facebook. The company, the public, and the people in power have at times oversimplified, sensationalized, misdiagnosed problems, or made mistakes in decisions. We focused on how the heck Facebook allowed Macedonian teens to attract the attention of Americans with fabricated newsand did less to explain why so many people believed it.

However, every public Facebook embarrassment is a building block that forces us to understand a little about the impact of these still relatively new Internet technologies on our lives. The real power of scandals is the opportunity to ask: Jesus, what is Facebook? does US? And what are we doing to each other?

Kate Klonik, a law professor, told me that when she started out as a Ph.D., a Yale Law student in 2015, she was told that her interest in running internet companies by online speech was not the subject of serious legal research and publication. She explained that online life was not considered real. Russian campaigning, Cambridge Analytica, and other Facebook news over the years changed that perception.

“These stories did one huge thing: they started getting people to take the power of tech companies seriously,” said Dr. Klonik.

This is what sets this Facebook episode apart from all the previous ones. We are wiser. And we are ready. There is a group of former tech insiders and third-party professionals who have studied Facebook and other tech superpowers for years, and they are armed. with suggested fixes for the harm these companies do.

Another difference in 2021 is the presence of Frances Haugen, a former product manager at Facebook, who looks to be the right messenger with the right message at the right time.

I want to resist comparisons that some senators and Facebook critics made between the company and the cigarette manufacturers. The products have no analogues. But the comparison is appropriate in a different way.

For decades, there have been warnings about the harmful effects of smoking and that the big tobacco companies are hiding it. In the 1990s. informant – Jeffrey S. Wiegand, a former CEO of Brown & Williamson Tobacco, crystallized and confirmed perennial suspicions and helped get the US government to act.

Haugen, like Wiegand, went public, providing incriminating information and first-hand documents, as well as a compelling story that could be told to a public who was ready to hear it. This magic formula can change everything for a company or industry.

“We are touched by stories” Eric Gordona professor at the University of Michigan Business School told me. “Facts don’t have to be bulletproof. There should be enough of them to make a good story credible. “

I don’t know if this is the big tobacco moment for Facebook. Haugen did not have first former Facebook Insider who sound signals O company… After Wiegand’s high-profile revelations, it took another couple of years for the US government to take harsh measures against the tobacco industry. And, of course, people still smoke.

Blame is a crude tool, but at every crossroads on Facebook, we are learning to be more intelligent about the guilty. Facebook and other online companies are not responsible for the world’s ills, but they have exacerbated some of them. We figured it out now.

The answers are tricky, but Haugen directs our attention directly to the red-hot core of Facebook: its corporate culture, organizational incentives, and visions that reveal the worst in humanity. And she says Facebook can’t fix itself. The wiser public must intervene.


  • Imagine that your colleagues’ salaries and performance reports were publicly available: Over the years from Twitch, a popular live streaming website, leaked online Last few days. The data included the computer code of the website and its payments to people who broadcast themselves while playing video games, my colleague Kellen Browning said. Vice News explains what worries Twitch streamers.

  • How to protect yourself from Internet trash: Washington Post writer shares research methods and tips separate the good from the bad in the sea of ​​goods online. (Subscription may be required.)

  • Why is it best to listen to books: Audiobooks are not cheating– writes my colleague at the New York Times Opinion, Farhad Manju. Some books “resonate through the spoken word, which by itself cannot fully convey.”

This dog in Istanbul loves to ride public transportand authorities tracked down his favorite suburban locations.


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