Thursday, October 28, 2021

The Facebook Papers

Isobel Asher Hamilton and Katie Canales (via Hacker News):

Seventeen US news organizations on Monday said they had reviewed leaked internal documents obtained by former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen.

Their reports on the documents span a wide variety of issues at the company, including its fading popularity with teens, its ability to counter hate speech, and its treatment of politicians.

David Pierce Anna Kramer:

Before it was The Facebook Papers, of course, it was The Facebook Files, a Wall Street Journal series that included the first looks at many of Haugen’s documents. (You can read the backstory of that name change, along with more details on the consortium of journalists that worked together on the Papers stories, from The New York Times.)

The stories started to publish last Friday night, but landed with a bang Monday morning and have been coming out ever since. Since they’re spread across lots of publications, we’ve rounded them all up in one place (in no particular order), to make them easier to find and read.

Nick Heer:

One thing I am trying to keep straight in my own head, as more reporting is published, is the source of different leaks. The Wall Street Journal’s “Facebook Files” series is primarily sourced to documents from Haugen, as are stories from other publications collected under the “Facebook Papers” banner. But a story on Friday from the Washington Post is sourced to a different whistleblower.

One thing that remains unclear is whether Haugen and her team supplied these documents to the other outlets, or if they received them from a third party.

Russell Brandom, Alex Heath, and Adi Robertson:

Facebook scrambled to address human trafficking content after Apple threatened to kick its apps off the iOS App Store, a leaked SEV (or Site Event) report shows. The report, referenced briefly by The Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files reporting, indicates that Apple threatened to pull Facebook and Instagram from iOS on October 23rd of 2019.


The Wall Street Journal first revealed that news outlets and political parties had complained about users favoring negative and hyperbolic content. Facebook was considering ways to fix the problem, and one method involved re-weighting the News Feed to optimize for “civic health” instead of primarily focusing on meaningful social interactions or session time.


A highly publicized plan from early last year to hide like counts on Instagram never happened because testing the change hurt ad revenue and led to people using the app less.

Ellen Cushing:

But these documents show that the Facebook we have in the United States is actually the platform at its best. It’s the version made by people who speak our language and understand our customs, who take our civic problems seriously because those problems are theirs too. It’s the version that exists on a free internet, under a relatively stable government, in a wealthy democracy. It’s also the version to which Facebook dedicates the most moderation resources. Elsewhere, the documents show, things are different. In the most vulnerable parts of the world—places with limited internet access, where smaller user numbers mean bad actors have undue influence—the trade-offs and mistakes that Facebook makes can have deadly consequences.


Update (2023-12-11): Nick Heer:

Kim Zetter says on Twitter that Meta briefed journalists last week about this news — which was supposed to be revealed tomorrow — at approximately the same time Joan Donovan filed a complaint against Harvard. Donovan claims the school forced her out after she tried to make public documents leaked by Frances Haugen. Shortly thereafter, the Chan Zuckerberg initiative pledged $500 million to Harvard around the same time and, Donovan alleges, that in part led to her eventual dismissal.

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