As Facebook comes under fire from Congress and the public, it was inevitable that it would make an act of contrition and try to mend its ways. But its planned remedies don’t strike at the real problem: Facebook’s need for profits at the expense of decency.
FACEBOOK ANNOUNCED Wednesday that it will begin to ban content that depicts public officials, celebrities and others in the public eye in demeaning ways, including sexualizing them. The platform already bans such content for private individuals. The company also said it will offer more protections for dissidents, activists and journalists from social media harassment by oppressive governments or others.
And finally, it aims to stop cyber bullying, where a group of users gangs up on another.
Anyone who has read Facebook for even a short time will realize that will be a tall order, and one we would argue would be impossible to police. Changing its algorithms so as to prevent formation of such cyber bullying gangs would be a better solution.
But Facebook makes money by people engaging with each other and coming back to posts and people with which they agree in a hyper-partisan world. Facebook sends users posts and news that they know they will like and that will build audience and increase advertising revenue, no matter how ugly those posts are.
The Facebook business model is not ethical. And as recent Facebook whistleblower and data scientist Frances Haugen pointed out, Facebook knew the harassment was happening — including psychological damage to young girls — and it did nothing about it.
FACEBOOK CONTINUES to be protected from liability of what people post by the Communications Decency Act. Passed in 1996, it protects all companies, not just Facebook, from liability for what people post on their websites. Members of both parties in Congress have called for repeal of the protection, with the expectation that this would force Facebook to take responsibility for what is posted on its platform by creating legal liability for it.
Facebook ignores these pushes for cleaning up its business at its peril. And as it does, the need to impose accountability on Facebook grows.
The Free Press, Mankato, Minnesota