Facebook needs to take a long, hard look at itself
Former product manager Frances Haugen’s four steps to fix Facebook are the straightforward guidance lawmakers need
At a congressional hearing on Tuesday, former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen didn’t need to convince US lawmakers that the company has a big problem. Republicans and Democrats were, for once, united on her side, at several points even calling her a “hero”. What they needed was direction. Luckily, Haugen gave that to them.
Throughout the hearing she used the term “engagement-based ranking” to synthesise the complexities of Facebook’s problems into a single, neutral term. The lawmakers tried saying it themselves. “We’ve learned ... that Facebook conducts what’s called ‘engagement-based ranking,’” senator John Thune said.
He was correct. Facebook’s success as a business boils down to algorithms that bump the most titillating content to the top of users’ newsfeeds. These formulas are fundamental to Facebook’s success in engaging users but also contribute to the propagation of conspiracy theories* on the site and to drawing teenage girls to eating disorders on Instagram. In one powerful moment, Haugen pointed out that, years from now, women would effectively suffer from brittle bones and infertility because of Facebook’s choices...