It is the most popular tool used for advertising, communicating information and self-promotion, a means of direct digital interaction with millions of people. At the same time, it has also been used as a means of propaganda and has contributed to the propagation of lies and the manipulation of voters. It is free to set its own terms and rules for public discourse, yet is often unable to stamp out the toxic circulation of hate speech.
Facebook was ostensibly created on the key pillars of connecting users and transparency. But over the years, the company that manages the social media platform has raised some pretty big walls of silence around its activities. Its executives – or in some countries communications offices that act as representatives – rarely give out information in the context of journalistic research. They often opt for silence or deny access when it appears that a story may not show the company in a good light.
Confidentiality agreements, which all staff are required to sign on the pretext that they are intended to protect user privacy, are the first method of battening down the hatches. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, Facebook is becoming increasingly secretive, going so far as to hire ex-agents of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States for internal security. The new stringent measures are forcing investigative journalists and their sources to resort to counterespionage practices.
It’s easy for internal investigators to ascertain whether an employee is friends with a journalist on the social networking site. They can even check whether they have been in the same place as a journalist at the same time from the Facebook app on their mobile devices.
Despite efforts to safeguard its reputation, Facebook cannot reverse the negative impression created by its practices. Recently, dozens of multinationals decided to boycott it and withdraw their ads in protest at its lack of action to block hate speech.
Last May, it settled out of court and agreed to pay $52 million to moderators working through American contractors. The sum will be distributed between 10,000 “digital cleaners” whose task was to weed out dangerous content.
Similarly, a lawsuit is pending in Europe by a former moderator who claimed not to have received sufficient psychological support for being obliged to look at scenes of extreme violence every day.