Facebook researchers are said to have had extensive knowledge that coronavirus and misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine existed on the company’s apps, yet did little to combat it let alone share the information with the White House.
Documents presented by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen show how multiple studies were run producing a number various number detailing the types of users who were most likely to share fake news.
Lawmakers, academics and the White House urged Facebook to share such information publicly.
Facebook employees also knew misinformation about the coronavirus was dominating parts of the social media platform creating ‘echo-chamber-like effects’ ultimately reinforcing hesitancy over the vaccine.
Researchers at Facebook were well aware that misinformation about coronavirus was spreading across its platform but did little to prevent it
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that it is ‘unfortunately not surprising’ for the administration to learn that Facebook knew of its problems with vaccine misinformation
The trove of documents shows that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook carefully investigated how its platforms spread misinformation about life-saving vaccines. They also reveal rank-and-file employees regularly suggested solutions for countering anti-vaccine content on the site, to no avail.
Facebook’s internal discussions were revealed in disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen’s legal counsel.
Some researchers detailed how postings by professional organizations such as the World Health Organization, were flooded by anti-vaccine comments essentially hijacking the pro-vaccine message and further spreading falsehoods.
The scale of the problem is known only to Facebook and it is not being shared with the White House, however social media platform was acutely aware that vaccine misinformation was a huge problem on its sites.
Anti-vaxxers protested on Times Square against vaccination mandates earlier this month
But when communicating with the public both in testimony before Congress and blog posts, execs stressed the positive response by the social media network and just how many pieces of misinformation it had removed including helping its users to find vaccination points closer to them.
‘For months, I’ve repeatedly requested information from Facebook about covid misinformation, including questions about which users post it, how the platform amplifies it, how Facebook decides what to remove, and much more,’ Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) said to The Washington Post.
‘I asked these questions because policymakers need to understand how covid misinformation spreads and how we can mitigate its harmful effects on vaccine hesitancy and public health. It was the whistleblower documents that shed light on these issues, instead of Facebook releasing them a long time ago,’ Eshoo continued.
Facebook have released their own statement on the situation stressing the company worked to promote reliable information about coronavirus throughout the pandemic.
The company noted vaccine hesitancy among U.S. Facebook users has gone down by 50 percent since January.
‘There’s no silver bullet to fighting misinformation, which is why we take a comprehensive approach which includes removing more than 20 million pieces of content that break our covid misinformation policies … connecting more than 2 billion people to reliable information about covid-19 and vaccines, and partnering with independent fact-checkers,’ Spokesperson Aasron Simpson said.
Protesters against vaccine and mask mandates demonstrate near Santa Fe, New Mexico. New documents raise questions about how Facebook responded to anti-vaccine content
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that it is ‘unfortunately not surprising’ for the administration to learn that Facebook knew of its problems with vaccine misinformation.
‘While social media plays an important role in society, it is clear that we need a whole of society approach to end this pandemic,’ Facebook Vice President Guy Rosen wrote in a blog. ‘Facts — not allegations — should help inform that effort.’
‘We’ve continued to see platforms regularly amplify anti-vaccine content over accurate information,’ Psaki said. ‘That’s the basic problem. And that’s what we continue to see happen.’
Facebook ‘set the stage … by allowing vast numbers of conspiracies to be promoted on their platform so people don’t trust the experts,’ Hany Farid, a computer science researcher said.
The internal documents show how Facebook employees were even able to see how pieces of misinformation spread.
One post was noted to have racked up 53,000 re-shares and upwards of 3 million impressions after an error with Facebook’s algorithms.
Rep. Eshoo asked for the company to provide information on how often misinformation was being looked at on the site and whether advertisers were being alerted, but the company ignored her request.
‘At this time, we have nothing to share in response to the questions you have raised, outside of what Mark Zuckerberg has said publicly,’ the company wrote in response, one month later.
Facebook employees were essentially facing a losing battle as they tried to combat misinformation with the possibility that any post could potentially go viral at any time.
Comments were as bad as the postings in many cases and almost impossible to police.
‘Vaccine hesitancy in comments is rampant,’ stated one researcher.
Prior to 2019, the company did not interfere with content that was anti-vaccine but it did stop recommending pages and groups with vaccine misinformation.
The company began the crackdown in earnest during the pandemic started blocking adverts that contained inaccurate information on vaccines.
In December the company began removed posts that spread misinformation about the safety, side effects, efficacy or ingredients of the vaccines.
On Thursday, Facebook announced its parent company was rebranding will now go by the name Meta as Mark Zuckerberg tries to distance the social media behemoth from mounting scandals.
Zuckerberg made the announcement at the Facebook Connect augmented and virtual reality conference.
Meta refers to the ‘metaverse,’ Zuckerberg’s vision for the company’s transition into shared augmented reality, where uses work and play in virtual world environments.
The attempt to escape reality couldn’t come at a better time for the embattled brand, which will retain the Facebook name, but Facebook Inc. – the parent company that also owns Instagram and WhatsApp – will now go under the new title Meta.
It will begin trading under MVRS on December 1.
Facebook changed its name to Meta in reference to its goal of expanding beyond social media, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Thursday at the Facebook Connect augmented and virtual reality conference
Employees pulled down a curtain draped over its iconic ‘Like’ sign outside the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters was pulled down to reveal the new branding
It includes a new logo depicting a blue infinity symbol and refers to the ‘metaverse’, the company’s new focus to expand beyond its social media apps
Haugen, a Facebook former product manager, left the company with tens of thousands of confidential documents that she copied in secret and released to roughly two dozen news outlets.
She testified before Congress on October 5 and the British Parliament on Monday, presenting findings on the harm social media caused young users. One revealed that 13.5% of British teenagers and 6% of American teenagers experiencing suicidal thoughts said that they traced them to Instagram.
A message posted on an internal message board in March 2020 and revealed in Haugen’s documents said the app revealed that 32% of girls said Instagram made them feel worse about their bodies if they were already having insecurities.
Another recent claim against the company is that Instagram bombards women and girls who suffer from eating disorders with images and videos of exceedingly thin females and others afflicted with anorexia.
Internal documents revealed that Instagram’s algorithm curates options based on searches and preferences of users who express interest in dieting, weight loss, and thinness.
Instagram researchers this year conducted an experiment in which they typed in terms like #skinny and #thin are then offered to browse through other accounts that feature dangerously emaciated women and girls.
Another core finding in the leaked documents was that Facebook staff have reported for years that they are concerned about the company’s failure to police hate speech and that its algorithms flooded users with extremist content and conspiracy theories based on their political beliefs.
Internal messages from staff at the social media giant show that they blamed themselves for the January 6 Capitol riot after giving extremist content a platform on the site.
‘One of the darkest days in the history of democracy and self-governance. History will not judge us kindly,’ said one worker while another said: ‘We’ve been fueling this fire for a long time and we shouldn’t be surprised it’s now out of control.’
Haugen’s leaked documents also reveal that Facebook potentially mislead the US Securities and Exchange Commission by failing to disclose that its popularity among young users is slumping.
It is said to have failed to explain that many of its overall users are people with more than one account on its sites, meaning the actual number of users could be up to 11% fewer than its figures would suggest.
One trend shows that the time spent on Facebook by U.S. teenagers was down 16% from 2020 to 2021 and that young adults, between 18 and 29, were spending 5% less time on the app, according to reporting from Bloomberg.
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testifying before British lawmakers on Monday about her concerns over the tech giant’s power in the tech and telecomms space. She said, among other things, that Facebook misleads the world by claiming it helps non-English-speaking companies with its technology, when it in fact fuels extremism
Despite an avalanche of damaging whistleblower claims surfacing at the start of this week in what became known as the Facebook Papers, Meta on Monday reported soaring profits for the latest quarter.
The company said that its net income grew 17% in the July-September period to $9.19 billion, buoyed by strong advertising revenue. That’s up from profits of $7.85 billion a year earlier.
Meta stock rose more than 1% in after-hours trading Tuesday and rose by more than 3% on Thursday afternoon before dropping to about 1.5% by 5pm. Third quarter revenue grew 35% to $29.01 billion, exceeding analyst expectations.
The company’s name change includes a new logo depicting a blue infinity symbol and refers to the ‘metaverse’, its new focus to expand beyond its social media apps.
The term ‘metaverse’ can refer to digital spaces, which are made more lifelike by the use of virtual reality or augmented reality.
‘Our mission remains the same, it’s still about bringing people together,’ he said, adding, ‘Now we have a new North Star to help bring the metaverse to life.’
He added that the word means ‘beyond’ in Greek and symbolizes that there is ‘always more to build’ and ‘always a next chapter in the story.’
‘I believe the metaverse is the next chapter of the Internet and it’s the next chapter of our company too,’ he said, adding, ‘While most etch companies focus on how people could connect to technology, we focus on building technology so people could connect with each other.’
Zuckerberg has previously suggested the metaverse to be the future of the company, and has been talking up the metaverse since July.
The company has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality, developing hardware such as its Oculus VR headsets and working on AR glasses and wristband technologies.
The buzzy word, first coined in a dystopian novel three decades earlier, is popular in Silicon Valley and has been referenced by other tech firms such as Microsoft.
In addition to its name change, Meta also announced an upcoming virtual reality headset called Project Cambria, a high-end product available to be released next year at a higher price point than the $299 Quest 2 headset, the company said in a blog post.
Meta also announced the code name of its first fully AR-capable smart glasses: Project Nazare. The glasses are ‘still a few years out,’ the company said in a blog post and Zuckerberg noted, ‘we still have a ways to go with Nazare, but we’re making good progress.’
The move to Meta is reminiscent of when Google abruptly renamed itself Alphabet in 2015, making Google a subsidiary and allowing it to become a technology conglomerate.
Meta is set to trade under MVRS from December 1. The company’s stock rose more than 1 percent in after-hours trading Tuesday and rose by more than 3% on Thursday
Zuckerberg has previously suggested the metaverse to be future of the company, and has been talking up the metaverse since July
In the metaverse, users’ avatars move and change their expression in real time with the user
But the burning question on the minds of many is whether the name is enough to help Meta shake off it’s mounting public relations nightmares.
For the company’s independent oversight board, the answer is no. The group released a statement shortly after the announcement, saying, ‘Changing their name doesn’t change reality: Facebook is destroying our democracy and is the world’s leading peddler of disinformation and hate.’
It continued, ‘Their meaningless name change should not distract from the investigation, regulation and real, independent oversight needed to hold Facebook accountable.’
The company is attempting to ‘divert the conversation from their current problems onto the metaverse, which is exciting and futuristic,’ Anne Olderog, a senior partner at the consulting firm Vivaldi with 20 years of brand-strategy experience, told Business Insider.
She called it a ‘brilliant move’ because ‘truly, nobody understands’ the metaverse. However, she added that the public could ‘definitely see through things like that at this stage.’
‘Facebook is the world’s social media platform and they are being accused of creating something that is harmful to people and society,’ marketing consultant Laura Ries told the Associated Press.
She compared the name Meta to when BP rebranded to ‘Beyond Petroleum’ to escape criticism that it harmed the environment. ‘They can’t walk away from the social network with a new corporate name and talk of a future metaverse.’
The company has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality, developing hardware such as its Oculus VR headsets and working on AR glasses and wristband technologies
In addition to a new drop of documents from Haugen last Monday that became known as the Facebook Papers, U.S. officials announced Meta had agreed to pay up to $14.25 million to settle civil claims by the government that the company discriminated against American workers and violated federal recruitment rules.
And last Tuesday in the U.K., the company was fined $70 million after failing to provide enough important information to the competition regulator investigating the firm’s takeover of GIF sharing platform Giphy.
Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched a probe into the acquisition in June last year, shortly after the deal was announced, over concerns about a ‘substantial lessening of competition.’
Facebook responded to the fine, saying: ‘We strongly disagree with the CMA’s unfair decision to punish Facebook for a best effort compliance approach, which the CMA itself ultimately approved. We will review the CMA’s decision and consider our options.’
Facebook has also admitted that users can share information about how to enter countries illegally and about people smuggled on its social media platforms.
The admission comes as Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich urged the Department of Justice and US Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate the social media giant over its ‘facilitation’ of illegal migration into the United States.
The move could benefit the California-based behemoth’s reputation, which has suffered hit after hit in recent years. The company had been facing a number of scandals long before its controversy over the Facebook Papers.
It was accused of facilitating the spread of misinformation during the 2016 US presidential election, prompting a a series of congressional hearings and policy changes, including the introduction of third-party fact-checkers and further transparency in political advertising.
In 2019, the Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook $5 billion for allowing 87 million US profiles to be harvested for information used for political advertising by British firm Cambridge Analytica.
Some of the advertising was used to help the 2016 campaign of former president Donald Trump.
When announcing the new name, Zuckerberg paid no notice to any of the scandals or Facebook Papers, but focused solely on Meta’s goals going forward.
Those familiar with the popular children’s game Roblox already know the metaverse as it describes itself as a metaverse company. Epic Games’ Fortnite is also considered to be part of the metaverse.
The metaverse is ‘going to be a big focus, and I think that this is just going to be a big part of the next chapter for the way that the internet evolves after the mobile internet,’ Zuckerberg told The Verge earlier this year.
‘And I think it’s going to be the next big chapter for our company too, really doubling down in this area.’
On Sunday, Meta announced it was hiring 10,000 people in Europe to build the metaverse out.