Less than a week ago, Facebook published an extraordinary statement as nothing in its history. The company recognized for the first time that the ordinary use of its product could be harmful. "The bad thing : In general, when people spend a lot of time pbadively consuming information, reading but not interacting with people, they report that they feel worse afterwards," wrote the authors, who work in the internal team. Facebook research. The company added that the most active use of social networks, in which users exchange messages and comments, "was related to" welfare improvements.
The message came unexpectedly, but it was a long time to come. 2017 was a painful year for Facebook's reputation. The closest comparison would be in 2007, when the company faced a backlash from the public and a revolt by advertisers over its controversial advertising tool Beacon. But Facebook was then at a fraction of its current size and power. When considering its immense responsibilities this year, the company received another blow: a handful of high profile former employees became vocal critics of what the company had created.
For most of its history, large social networks have been fired as toys. Although the cultural influence of Facebook and Twitter has grown, although you can also include YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook Instagram, its basic mechanics of publishing, liking and sharing has been a fundamental concern despite the increase in Disturbingly effective advertising. tools
Everything began to change at the end of 2016, when the world witnessed the results of the US presidential election. UU The groups linked to Russia supposedly exploited social platforms to inflame social divisions and promote the candidacy of Donald Trump, earning millions of impressions for insignificant sums spent on advertising. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, owned by Google, have been under the microscope since then, somewhat unfairly, current and previous employees have argued, since the conversation tends to conveniently ignore the effect of false news and outright propaganda published elsewhere. (The country seems especially delayed in a referendum on the influence of our hysterical cable news networks, beginning with Fox News.)
But the monomaniacal approach to the influence of social platforms in elections had the effect of extracting some of the first champions and constructors. They criticized what they themselves had built.
The first was Justin Rosenstein, now the co-founder of Asana, a collaborative software company. Rosenstein helped lead the development on Facebook's Like button, but this year he complained about the psychological effects of social media and the "brilliant pseudo-pleasure hits" that came from friends who liked his posts. "It's very common," Rosenstein said. the Guardian "so that humans develop things with the best intentions and so that they have unintended and negative consequences".
Sean Parker, who was Facebook's first president, seemed to echo Rosenstein's comments in an Axios event last month where he called himself "something of a conscientious objector." "I do not know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the involuntary consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and … literally changes its relationship with society, the one with the other, "said Parker. "It probably interferes with productivity in strange ways, God only knows what he's doing to our children's brains."
Roger McNamee, one of the first investors of Facebook, said that the company is directly responsible for the misuse of its platform by the Russians. he did not propose to increase political polarization and empower bad actors to undermine democracy, but this result was inevitable, "he wrote in an October opinion article in USA Today ." It was the result of innumerable decisions of Facebook, all done in search of greater profits. To maximize its participation in human attention, Facebook employed techniques designed to create an addiction to its platform. "
The company avoided entering into a public fight with its deserters until this month, then Chamath Palihapitiya, who once led the Facebook user "I think we have created tools that are tearing apart the social fabric of how society works," he said, adding that the growth team encouraged its audience at the Stanford Graduate School of Business to take a "break" from the Social networks felt "a tremendous guilt" for his time in the company, which made him enormously rich. (Next, he tried to remember some of his comments the next day, leaving what he actually believes is a mystery)  Facebook finally moved in. He replied that Palihapitiya had not worked at the company in six years. "Facebook was a very different company back then and, as I grew older, Yes, we realized that our responsibilities had also grown, "he said. "We take our role very seriously and are working hard to improve, we have worked hard and researched with external experts and academics to understand the effects of our service on wellness, and we are using it to inform the development of our products."
You can read this statement as a sincere and good faith response to the company's defectors, or consider it a deviation. Facebook is breaking the social fabric, to use the words of Palihapitiya, or is it not? Is that?
It's fair to ask why these former employees are expressing themselves only now, after they've garnered millions of help to take Facebook to a position of global dominance. For some, he feels interested. They have little to risk now complaining about their former employer, but could win if public opinion becomes more against Facebook. None have said what they would have done differently on Facebook, knowing what they know now. Even Palihapitiya later said that the company "overwhelmingly does well in the W orld."
Even so, the downloads of criticism set the stage for the publication of the company's December 15 blog, in which it got tiptoes in waters previously reserved only for academics, journalists and Facebook critics. He explained, in an admirably direct way, a series of studies that had shown that News Feed consumption could make people feel worse about their own lives. He also presented research that suggests that Facebook could strengthen ties between friends and family, and make them feel better.
Almost as important as what the company's researchers said is what they suggested: that Facebook can not predict the effects it will have on us, either individually or socially. This explains why he would respond to Palihapitiya not by trying to refute his fears, but by committing himself to work with external researchers and use it to "inform the development of our products".
For all the problems this year, Facebook is still a dominant company. It grew in revenue, profits and number of users. But as a survey commissioned this year by The Verge illustrated, Facebook also has a trust problem.
Each company is an experiment. And yet, even among the technological giants, few experiments seem loaded as emotionally as Facebook's. The company was inserted between us and our friends, and between us and the news, and the end result is that someone guesses. And what you may have experienced in recent years as a kind of vague malaise about the company had, by the end of 2017, credibility and a way.
It was bad enough for Facebook to be dragged before Congress and scolded for its inaction in the face of Russian meddling. ("Do something, or we will do it," Senator Dianne Feinstein told the company's legal counsel in November). But it was worse when the people who brought Facebook to life embarked on a public campaign to distance themselves from it.