Facebook is making hate worse, whistleblower says

these social media platforms are integral to our daily lives forming a channel of communication that enables continuous contact with friends family and even strangers it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well and that goes for but in recent years facebook’s been facing a barrage of questions about what it’s doing to stop the spread of misinformation hatred extremism and content deemed to be damaging to children and now those questions have been amplified after thousands of its internal documents have been leaked to the u.s media they’re being dubbed the facebook papers and allege facebook turned a blind eye to inaccurate content published by celebrities and politicians mark zuckerberg ceo allowed a video claiming abortion is never medically necessary to be published on his platforms decisions to take down material were blocked when it was deemed to be harmful to powerful political actors at the heart of the criticism facing facebook is an allegation of having a culture that prioritizes profit over safety i would say that profit was the most important and overriding decision in anything that the business was doing but i don’t know why anybody should be surprised by that how would you describe the culture at facebook when you were there i think there are situations in facebook where the company is now leaning into some of the tropes of the evil mega corp so for example press officer calling me asking me what i’m going to say when i’m somebody who can speak of my own free volition i think there’s some general uh concern about some of the tactics that the company is now employing i do not think facebook as a whole as a business is entirely evil and beyond reproach but i think there are increasingly some big business tactics being rolled out to try and keep facebook in the position that it’s in this all comes as the uk government plans to introduce an online safety bill which will require facebook and others to remove dangerous content such as terrorist material or child sex abuse images or face multi-billion pound fines today the woman behind the leak gave evidence in front of mps and peers and told them facebook was unquestionably making hate worse i think there is a view inside the company that safety is a cost a cost center it’s not a growth center which i think is very short-term in thinking because facebook’s own research has shown that when people have worse integrity experiences on the site they are less likely to retain facebook told us we’ve always had the commercial incentives to remove harmful content from our sites people don’t want to see it when they use our apps and advertisers don’t want their ads next to it that’s why we’ve invested 13 billion dollars and hired 40 000 people to do one job keep people safe on our apps we put out a quarterly report where we actually show our progress and the amount of of content that we miss in different areas of abuse everything from hate speech to threats to violence and in incitement so i would encourage people to look at what the actual facts are and uh hopefully they can see that this is something that this company prioritizes but there’s a concern among some that regulation will clash with protecting free speech a core value of democracy self-regulation has demonstrably failed we know that far too often tech firms either fail to make the right choices or fail to enforce their own terms and conditions so it’s right and it’s vital that we have external regulation that makes this a clear set of obligations on tech firms to enforce their rules and to ensure that they protect the interests of users these documents offer the public a very detailed look at the internal workings of the world’s largest social media company they’ve triggered a debate about facebook’s impact on society and how capitalism could be dictating what we consume on our screens see make attention there well joining me now is richard allen lib dem peer who was a senior policy boss at facebook between 2009 and 2019. with me here is ed vasey who was culture minister for six years under david cameron but first let’s hear from sophie young in california she’s a data scientist who worked for facebook until last year when she blew the whistle on what she called multiple blatant attempts by authoritarian governments to manipulate facebook she said facebook’s responses were often slapdash and haphazard so sophie um did you see essentially the same as what we’ve heard there from francis hogan in terms of her whistleblower testimony i think francis and i have had roughly the similar the same message in that in that facebook is ultimately a company its goal is to make money and its go and its goal is to its profit over the public good you asked at the start of this a question if if facebook can’t read out dangerous anti-social media on its own platforms can anyone i’m going to rephrase that question if exxonmobil cannot solve climate change can anyone if equifax cannot stop credit breaches can anyone because ultimately we wouldn’t expect to ask these sorts of questions but but because of facebook’s pi we expect a great deal from a company that it isn’t willing to provide so so you think sophie that facebook you know in terms of the question of whether it’s unable or unwilling to deal with its role in hate and health problems from your perspective it’s unwilling i would say i would say i would say so no i mean facebook say that’s categorically untrue that they’ve invested 13 billion dollars hired 40 000 people and they’ve halved the amount of hate speech on the platform over the past nine months down to 0.5 this is a very typical facebook response because they aren’t engaging with the actual substance of the question and the allegations because because both myself and francis have come up forward with very specific details very specific statements and facebook is choosing to give a broad general answer and so i’m going to use an analogy that i hope is relatable to to your listeners suppose tomorrow my girlfriend asks me sophie did you watch the dishes last night and they say i have watched dishes 150 times in the last year i have invested 50 dollars in the last year in cleaning products she would be completely correct to call me out as avoiding the question well okay well let’s see sorry did do finish it finish around and see it but when facebook do it that does it we take the word for granted okay well let’s bring in richard allen who used to be policy chief at facebook i mean i don’t know if you heard the testimony from well either from sophie all from francis in parliament today do you recognize the company that used to work for unquestionably making hate worse quote uh which in its own research likened children’s engagement with instagram to addiction and as i’m willing to accept even slivers of profit less to deal with these issues i mean i i don’t agree with the characterization of some of the motives of my former colleagues i mean clearly the company doesn’t get everything right but it’s actually a company that asks a lot of questions of itself i mean a lot of what you’re seeing put in the public domain is the company itself choosing to look at the impact of its own product but why is it not acting then why is it not solving those problems it’s got all the resources the res the results have just come out they’ve made nine billion dollars of profit in three months 30 billions of revenue you could decide to devote billions to this and not to building the next metaverse or whatever mark zuckerberg wants to do and again the company does actually again except that mistakes are made but there’s a lot of action that has been taken i think significantly uh more than a baseline you know the company has gone above and beyond and a lot of these questions are just really really difficult if you take one thing that you had in your introduction uh the fact that there is a second review done before you take down a politician’s speech or account well that’s because you worry about democracy not because it’s profit oriented and in fact the this online safety page i can see that there are debates and arguments about democracy and free speech but okay let’s take the example used in my colleagues report there the nspc 24 online grooming cases a week recorded said the nsbc across all of facebook’s apps three a day and again and those are terrible but i know because i was there when it was developed that facebook’s gone beyond many of the other companies by actually implementing uh special technologies that try and detect for example when an overview they’re not working are they they work to a certain extent they’re not perfect people get through the net but if you want to say look on the internet if you’re gonna you know be on the internet your kids are going to be on the internet i feel more confident having them on facebook products than than many other places because facebook at least is trying even if it’s not perfect you really feel confident for your own children on facebook uh i do feel more confident on facebook products than the whiles of the internet so sophie sorry do you come in yes yes i would like to interject because mr anne and i realized that you’re different in facebook and so i want to be very specific about what i experienced at facebook because when i caught the government of honduras red-handed it took almost a year for facebook to take it down when i caught the government of azerbaijan red-handed it took more than a year for facebook to take it down when i caught an mp in india a member of the dock supply red-handed from the bjp ruling party we were about to take him down but then suddenly when we realized that he was connected at the last minute facebook facebook refused to to even acknowledge that the question existed and began ignoring me so my ques so so you have been speaking in generalities but but i’m going to confront you on these very specific cases to please explain thanks i was involved in a lot of those conversations as well and again the concern is that as soon as you intervene in those kind of sensitive political cases you’ve really got to know that you’re not going to make things worse since i know people were very hesitant often to intervene with politicians even when there’s evidence they were behaving badly i want i want you to be very clear if a politician is if the politician is using tens of thousands of fake accounts and run by the government paid by the government run by governmental employees to mislead people online meets to repress their own citizenry and harass the opposition and the proposal is to remove the fake accounts and leave the politicians along how is that in any way possible a difficult conversation even at facebook no one was defending this activity i wouldn’t agree that it was terrible and i i cannot believe right that right now you are defending this activity it’s a terrible activity but i say uh at the same time what you don’t want to do is blunder in and end up carrying out actions that then end up seeming as though the company is now taking sides in the political context let’s let’s let’s bring in ed advancing some issues of free speech around here that issues issues of politics but you know just just take the issue of child health mental health the nspc statistics that you’ve just heard on that basis alone i mean try and park the idea this is a digital product any other product that led to some of these outcomes you know their executives would be in court fearing jail well the question is you know should you regulate big tech and the answer is obviously yes and ironically all the people participating in the discussion do agree with that and i do not take the line that you just have to bash facebook over the head because i acknowledge that for many many people facebook is an incredibly useful tool you can talk to millions of small businesses in the uk whose businesses depend on facebook as a platform but the idea that this should be completely unregulated is nonsense uh and in fact in terms of you know how quickly facebook takes stuff down you are going to have a lot of mps legislating on tech regulation who regularly face abuse and death threats and when they try and get redressed from the social media companies they are shouting into the void and these are the people who are going to regulate them so they haven’t been dealt with very well by the social media companies and everybody agrees that there should be a form of regulation i think one has to acknowledge that it’s pioneering legislation certainly in the uk i think we are leading the way but europe is not far behind australia is actually slightly ahead it is all coming together it will not be perfect but it is long overdue leading the way but it’s been years it has been it has been years online safety tick-tock didn’t exist when we started talking about it absolutely and i i was i got sacked six years ago as a minister and i was talking about it then and how was it taken so it it and age do you acknowledge the harms are very real i mean particularly children mentally and age verification uh fell by the wayside when we were meant to do that two or three well you say fell by the way some sort of accident well i wasn’t a minister you know i i wish it happened but uh i don’t know why it wasn’t isn’t this something i can’t remember the concept the key point is to get the online safety bill uh as good as it can be scrutiny and it’s also quite right there will be a vigorous debate about it because you do have your mention between free speech exactly and this issue of a hard line but also this issue of wanting to tempt companies big tech giants from the west coast to post brexit britain as well and so being a little lenient on them isn’t that the reality of the situation of our country in this debate i genuinely don’t think that’s the case there is some uh apparently debate about whether the criminal sanctions on directors of tech companies should be brought in now or left for regulation in the future i think they should be brought in now because i think parliament should debate them and decide that now not leave it to future governments to bring in that regulation i don’t think it’s linked to whether or not tech companies will invest i think they will invest come what made because the uk is a brilliant country for those companies to invest in i think they’re crying wolf about that particular issue i think that there will be a big big debate about free speech because our regulation goes further than most in taking this issue of legal but harmful i if i’m rude to you but i somehow cause you psychological harm even though what i’m saying is perfectly legal i can be caught by this legislation i think there will be a genuine and i think important debate about how far this regulation should go but be in no doubt this regulation is needed we’ve seen because of the tragic death of david amos it has moved up the agenda you saw boris johnson it will take a year it will probably take two years two years okay okay let’s take a step back a minute you know i think for people watching at home who are parents they’re wondering they’re seeing these testimonies and they’re wondering you know should i what should i do about my children who are on these on these uh platforms let me tell you what do you do well let me give you one piece of what you do let me give you five one piece of good news which is this government and this country is brought in the age appropriate design code it doesn’t trip off the tongue it’s managed by the information commissioner’s office that was a few years ago that is now live i spoke to the information commissioner’s office today about it and they say that a lot of the social media companies are already changing their behavior they’re not only adhering to the letter of the law they’re adhering to the spirit of the law okay regulation moves these companies and that’s why it’s so important let me bring sophie and richard on this issue it was very telling i thought that in francis’s testimony she said that the children of tech executives were basically banned from using social media at their schools doesn’t that tell at all i think that’s a very strong statement just i don’t i can’t personally attest to its veracity but i would compare it to for instance cigarette executives who insisted that their products were not addictive and did not call and were safe to consume but at the same time banned the children from smoking and so to me that i cannot that is a very strong statement okay and so and so and so richard you said it already you think that these products are safe do not fear though you’re on the end your former company on the end of a and rather epic backlash even president biden although we retracted the statement suggested that on anti-vaxx propaganda as he saw it that um facebook was killing people i mean i agree with that that it is time for regulations again just to be very clear i i don’t agree with the characterization some of the past decisions but i do agree that now is the time for regulation these big decisions stage regulation not self-regulation no no regulation by ofcom offcom is an excellent regulator if it has a chair of the statue of somebody like edvazi it’ll be even better which is a prospect as i understand you know it’s a great regulator i think will do a great job i think we will get better decisions made when the companies are disclosing all of this information we’ve now seen leaked to a regulator and they have a grown-up conversation about how to make things better regulators working with companies is what is good for us good for our kids good for society well i must leave that there thank you very much sophie jang richard allen and edvazi here in the studio and we obviously must say that facebook denied the allegations of the whistleblower in parliament today now

Leave a Comment