Facebook knows its products harm millions of people. It knows about Instagram’s impact on the mental health of teenage girls. It knows criminals use its platforms for human trafficking. It knows its algorithms encourage discord and anger, and that they contribute to ethnic violence and political polarization. It knows many of its practices are indefensible.
Confronted repeatedly with these findings by its own employees, what did Facebook do in response? Barely anything.
These are the central findings of The Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files series, an investigative project that now defines the public’s discourse about one of the most powerful companies in the world.
An investigative series by The Journal podcast brought to life the documents underpinning this investigation, highlighting central voices from around the world including:
-Anastasia, a teen who says Instagram contributed to her depression and eating disorder;
-Wanja, a woman who was tricked by a Facebook job post and eventually trafficked to Saudi Arabia;
-Outside researchers who desperately wanted access to Facebook’s own internal studies;
-And the Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, in an extensive, exclusive audio interview.
The podcast turned the thousands of disparate documents into a narrative. We explored the fallout from a major algorithm change in 2018 that incentivized the spread of divisive, sensational content and misinformation. We told the story of how Facebook has tried, and often failed, to enforce their own rules and policies, through both artificial intelligence and what they call “break glass measures.” We disclosed voices of dissent from within the company who pushed leaders to act on misinformation, hate speech and criminal activity. We reported on the company’s concerns around losing younger users and its plan to use children to grow the platform. Through extensive research and the use of archival audio, we contrasted what Facebook employees wrote in the documents with what Facebook has told the public throughout the years, revealing that Facebook hasn’t been telling the public the full story.
The Facebook files is an impressive deep dive into the complexity of the largest platform transforming communication around the world. Using key figures and first-person experiences of users, the series features new perspectives on its policies, highlighting issues and offering listeners an unbiased first look at what happens behind the scenes.