In December 2019, as Facebook was bracing for the looming chaos of the 2020 election, a post appeared on its internal discussion site. "We are responsible for viral content," the title declared. The author walked through the ways in which Facebook's algorithmic design helps low-quality content go viral, concluding with some recommendations. Among them: "Rather than optimizing for engagement and then trying to remove bad experiences, we should optimize more precisely for good experiences."
That might sound obvious—optimize for good experiences. And yet Facebook's disinterest in doing that is a persistent theme in The Facebook Papers, internal documents revealed by Frances Haugen, the former employee turned whistleblower who recently testified before Congress. The files, first reported on by The Wall Street Journal, were included in disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission by Haugen and provided to Congress in redacted form by her legal counsel. The redacted versions were reviewed by a consortium of news organizations, including WIRED.
They reveal Facebook's own employees agonizing over the fact that, in their view, its central algorithms reward outrage, hatred, and viral clickbait, while its content moderation systems are deeply inadequate. The documents are also full of thoughtful suggestions for how to correct those flaws. Which means there is good news for Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg in the files, if they choose to see it: a blueprint for how to fix some of the company's biggest problems.
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