The Facebook papers spur more calls to 'break them up!'

The Facebook papers spur more calls to 'break them up!'
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2018, Anthony Quintano

"The Facebook Papers" on Monday prompted longtime critics of Big Tech to renew demands for policymakers within and beyond the United States to crack down on and even break up the social media giant.

A consortium of 17 American news outlets—along with a separate group of European newsrooms—on Friday began publishing articles on internal documents obtained by former employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen, though much of the reporting was released Monday.

"It's an important day to read the news," said the American Economic Liberties Project, pointing to the Facebook Papers and reiterating its call to break up the company.

The reporting shows Facebook prioritizes growth and profit over trying to prevent and contain problematic content. As The Verge summarized, key findings include that Facebook "was caught off guard" by Covid-19 vaccine misinformation, it struggled to handle efforts to delegitimize the 2020 U.S. election, and Apple threatened to ban its apps over online "slave markets."

Echoing reactions to a second whistleblower submitting a complaint about the company to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Friday, Evan Greer, director of the digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future, declared that "Facebook can't be reformed."

"We can and should push for policies that reduce its immediate harm to marginalized communities in the short term," she said Monday. "But in the long term, we need policies that reduce its power, so that we can build alternatives to fully abolish and replace it."

"Before it was acquired by Facebook, Instagram actually tried to improve quality instead of just increasing virality at all costs," tweeted Fordham University School of Law professor Zephyr Teachout. "Break them up!"

Facebook bought the photo- and video-sharing platform Instagram in 2012 then acquired the messaging service WhatsApp two years later. The company is also responsible for the highly popular Messenger application.

The Real Facebook Oversight Board (RFOB) framed the new reporting as vindication of Haugen's recent public comments.

"Today's avalanche of leaks, revelations, and reporting blasts apart Facebook's spin that Frances Haugen was 'cherry picking' documents," the RFOB statement said. "Across 17 news organizations, dozens of journalists, and thousands of documents, the Facebook Papers and Frances Haugen's continued testimony have laid bare the extreme harm and devastating impacts of Facebook."

"In breathtaking detail, the Facebook Papers show a company that is in the thrall of right-wing extremists, so afraid of looking 'partisan' that they welcome insurrectionists, racists, and disinformation artists onto their platforms under the guise of free speech," the RFOB continued. "Ignoring house on fire warnings from their own staff and lying to regulators and their own oversight board, we now see Facebook for what it really is: an international criminal enterprise."

The RFOB called for an independent investigation:

The Facebook Papers also reveal the absolute inadequacy of Facebook's oversight board, fiddling while Rome burns and begging the company to stop lying. As MP and RFOB member Damian Collins said today in Parliament, the "hindsight board" lacks the independence and mandate to hold Facebook accountable when it needs oversight the most. As new allegations cascade down around Facebook, the oversight board by design has no authority to intervene.
We reject the premise that the Facebook oversight board can ever be considered independent.
Instead, at this defining moment of crisis for Facebook and democracy, we call for a full, independent, outside investigation of Facebook and the allegations raised in the Facebook Files, the Facebook Papers, and recent SEC filings. In the U.S., the U.K., and the E.U., policymakers should fast-track legislation to ensure permanent, independent oversight of Facebook. No criminal should appoint its own judge and jury, as Facebook has done with its oversight board.

Haugen's testimony to the U.K. Parliament on Monday resembled what she recently told U.S. lawmakers about Facebook: that it "fans hate," the "current system is biased towards bad actors, and people who push people to the extremes," and the company has been "negligent" in terms of addressing concerns raised internally by its own data scientists for years.

Employing language often used by critics of Big Oil's climate lies, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said Monday that "there's a lot to discover in these papers about how the platform promotes extremism and hurts our communities, but here's what is clear: Facebook knew."

"For too long, tech companies have said, 'Trust us, we've got this.' Now the extent to which Facebook has put profits over people is becoming more and more clear," said Klobuchar, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel.

"The time has come for action from all sides to rein in Big Tech," she asserted, calling for modernizing competition laws, holding companies accountable for spreading disinformation, and federal privacy legislation "with rules of the road for tech platforms to protect user data and ensure that algorithms stop promoting toxic and dangerous content."

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