Facebook's own internal memos come back to haunt them after they deny ignoring platform's harmful effects
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is facing a new firestorm over the social network's handling of Russian misinformation efforts in the 2016 US election season AFP/File / GERARD JULIEN

On Tuesday, writing for CNN, fact-checker Tara Subramanian demolished Facebook's claims about its business practices — using its own internal documents to reveal three times the company blew off its own analysts' warnings.

The article was a response to Facebook vice president of global affairs Nick Clegg, who reacted to a recent Wall Street Journal investigation by saying, "At the heart of this series is an allegation that is just plain false: that Facebook conducts research and then systematically and willfully ignores it if the findings are inconvenient for the company."

That couldn't be further from the truth, wrote Subramanian — who proceeded to reveal three times that Facebook did exactly that.

First of all, wrote Subramanian, Facebook ignored its negative impacts on children and teenagers. Documents uploaded to an internal message board, some more than a year before Zuckerberg's testimony and obtained by the Wall Street Journal, indicate that Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, has negatively impacted many of its millions of users, especially young women. In a September 2021 episode of the 'The Journal' podcast, executive editor and co-host Kate Linebaugh reported that, 'One internal document says that for teen girls who'd recently experienced body image issues, Instagram made those feelings worse for one in three of them.' But as recently as March 2021, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a congressional hearing the evidence is "inconclusive."

Second is the impact of Facebook disinformation on the 2016 election. "In July 2017, a Facebook spokesperson told CNN 'we have seen no evidence that Russian actors bought ads on Facebook in connection with the election' but in September, Facebook said an internal review conducted between June 2015 and May 2017 had uncovered some 3,000 ads 'connected to about 470 inauthentic accounts and pages in violation of our policies.'" Further, per the company's information, these accounts "likely operated out of Russia" and at least some referenced the election.

And third, Facebook allegedly knew that its metrics on video viewership on its platform were wrong in ways that cost advertisers money. "A lawsuit filed in October 2018 alleged that Facebook knew about the errors before they were first publicized, citing internal emails in which [COO Sheryl] Sandberg acknowledged that she had been aware of the problems with the potential reach metric for several years." Some of these documents date to before Zuckerberg announced the company was about to enter a "golden age of video."

Taken together, these three incidents directly contradict Facebook's denial that it has been ignoring its own internal reports.

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