How a better Facebook could work


“This group should be broken up,” says Simon Hegelich, unusually drastic for a university professor when asked about Facebook. Hegelich researches ‘Political Data Science’ at the Technical University of Munich. He looked at the hearing in which the former Facebook employee Frances Haugen reports on the inner workings of the group.

Little of what the former Facebook employee Frances Haugen said in front of the Senate Committee on Tuesday was really new to scientists: It was known from studies that Facebook’s algorithms mainly flushed posts into the news feed for its 2.8 billion users that ensure so-called “engagement” – for clicks, reactions and comments. We have known for years that these are mainly posts that make you angry. “There are also studies by Facebook on the subject of polarization that show that the people there are becoming right-wing extremists,” said Hegelich in a telephone conversation.

Advertising is another point that stands out: “The way in which personalized advertising currently works on social networks is simply excessive,” writes the author and network activist Katharina Nocun in an email. “When I asked for data a few years ago, I found out that I had landed on Facebook in an advertising category called ‘Stress’. This is psychological profiling and should be forbidden Further. “Whatsapp, Instagram and Facebook shouldn’t belong to the same group – breaking it up would be the only right thing to do.”

Although Facebook has long been known as a problem in American politics, little has happened so far. That was because, especially in the Trump era, Democratic MPs wanted to do something about misinformation, while the Republicans insisted on “free speech” – and Facebook meanwhile continued to do business as usual. “Company over country” Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg is said to have called for internal meetings.

This time, the American MPs seemed to have the big picture in view rather than individual profiles or posts: Facebook’s algorithms and the question ‘What kind of posts do Facebook’s networks actually distribute?’ As Frances Haugen put it, “It’s not about certain users who are angry or unstable, about one page being radicalized against the other. It’s about Facebook’s decision to grow at any cost, to become a billion-dollar company and make a profit at the expense of our security. ”

More from MIT Technology Review

More from MIT Technology Review

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With the studies which Frances Haugen leaked from Facebook, is now quite extensively documented how harmful Facebook is exactly. It is clear that Facebook has been aware of this for years. And it is clear that when in doubt, Facebook tends to opt for more “engagement”, for its own profits, and against the well-being of users or society. And the question arises as to what happens next – what has to happen in order for Facebook to get better – or at least less bad?

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