Facebook’s management was aware of multiple problems created or magnified by its services, but dragged on to fix them or failed to do so: this is, in essence, what is shown by a series of articles published the week of September 13 by the Wall Street Journal, which is based on internal Facebook documents. The American daily had access, through a ” alert launcher “, to several studies carried out between 2018 and 2020 by researchers working for the social network and disseminated internally.
On several hot issues, these researchers had identified major problems, and proposed possible solutions. But, according to the Wall Street Journal, these were only applied to the strict minimum. Facebook had notably carried out a study on the well-being of adolescents using Instagram. A large poll showed that while 30% of young American users of the app said that Instagram improves the way they feel, 19% said that the social network has a negative effect on their mental health, with more marked effects for adolescents and especially adolescents suffering from psychological disorders.
The causes of these effects have been identified by researchers at Facebook, whose findings overlap with those of other independent studies: strong social pressure combined with the overvaluation of images of bodies and “perfect” lives. The researchers recommended decreasing the prevalence of celebrity posts and the visibility of likes, but according to documents consulted by the American business daily, the management of the company only implemented these suggestions minimally and after long periods of time. debates, for fear of lowering platform usage statistics.
The documents also show that Facebook knew very quickly that changes to its algorithm, in 2018, had serious unintended consequences. Worried to see the “engagement” figures – the number of actions made by users, such as likes, comments, shares… – on Facebook fall, the social network had changed the rules for posting messages to favor those who received many reactions.
However, the researchers warned, this change mechanically gave more visibility to the most provocative messages, contributing to a strong polarization of the discussions – a Polish political party had reported to the social network that it now devoted 80% of its messages to attacking its opponents, because aggressive messages worked much better. Corrections were put in place, but only in the spring of 2020, and only for content relating to health or civic engagement. Mr. Zuckerberg would have refused a more global deployment to keep his users on his apps.
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