Several data scientists have quit their jobs Facebook following the presidential election over frustration at the company's unwillingness to crack down on hate speech and misinformation coming from right-leaning pages. In a goodbye note they wrote and shared companywide, as seen by BuzzFeed News, the departing employees specifically said their extensive efforts to put out flames have been meaningless because of Facebook's, "very apparent interest in propping up actors who are fanning the flames of the very fire we are trying to put out."
'Policies' are a smokescreen — They concluded that, while Facebook has continued developing its automated tools and been successful at reducing violence reports through targeted interventions, it's never going to be enough so long as the company continues turning a blind eye to hateful content shared by the likes of Trump and right-leaning pages. “Trump’s ‘Looting and Shooting’ post was viewed orders of magnitude of times more than the total number of views that we prevent in a day,” they wrote, referring to a post in which President Trump suggested that Black Lives Matter protestors should be shot.
It's long been evident to many outside Facebook that the company hesitates to censor posts from right-leaning pages out of fear of sparking a backlash. But this is the first time employees have used such detailed data to back up their arguments — the data scientists estimated that five million of the five billion pieces of content posted on Facebook each day violates its own rules on hate speech.
From the company's internal "Hate Bait Dashboard" — yes, that's a real thing — they highlighted the top ten U.S. pages over a recent period of two weeks that led to the most hateful interactions:
- Fox News
- The Daily Caller
- USA Patriots for Donald Trump
- Donald Trump for President
- Donald J. Trump
- Ben Shapiro
- Conservative Tribune by WJ
- US Chronicle
- The Western Journal
“They all create dozens or hundreds of posts like this [a] day, each eliciting endless volumes of hateful vile comments — and we reward them fantastically for it," they wrote.
Facebook's main platform is increasingly home to an older demographic that doesn't want it to censor conservative content. And there's little incentive to do anything as the company's revenue only continues to grow, helped by its crown jewel that is Instagram which accounts for roughly 25 percent of the company's revenue.
A recent internal survey the company ran in October found that only 51 percent of employees believed the company was having a positive impact on the world, but most employees still intended to stick around for the long term. That may be changing now as workers come to terms with the fact that Facebook willfully ignores its own policies in favor of political considerations.
Antitrust — Maybe the antitrust lawsuit that the FTC filed against Facebook earlier this week will change things. In its suit, the FTC wrote that, "Facebook's actions to entrench and maintain its monopoly deny consumers the benefits of competition."
At the end of the day, Facebook has a profit motive driving it to continue growing and allowing viral right-leaning content to thrive. Moderation and censorship are at odds with CEO Mark Zuckerberg's stated goal of being a free speech platform for all. And boycotts rarely work because people don't have the energy or time to walk away from every problematic product or service — they like Instagram and continue using it even if they know it's owned by Facebook.
But if Instagram and WhatsApp are decoupled from Big Blue, that could change the calculus. Facebook couldn't be so complacent about what's happening on its network because it wouldn't have all the money from other products like Instagram cushioning it. Critics believe that may be the kick it needs to spur change if it wants to be welcoming to the greatest amount of people and actually provide a service that's a net positive in the world.