Amid ongoing discussion about Facebook’s approach to content moderation, and amplification via its platforms, The Social Network has today launched two new ads which call for more Government regulation of the tech sector, while also seeking to humanize the people behind Facebook’s decision-making process.
As you can see in this example, Facebook has today published two new profile videos of staff that are working on its content moderation challenges.
The clips first show each employee holding images of their families, then provide a quick overview of their work, and their views on regulation.
As per ‘Rochelle’ in the above clip:
“You should be able to understand who has your data and how they use it. Federal legislation can give our platforms and other platforms guidelines so we can have a consistent approach.”
In the second video, Facebook content moderator ‘Jack’ explains that:
“We make a lot of difficult decisions. We work in the spectrum of freedom of expression versus content moderation and constantly trying to figure out where on that spectrum we should land. I don’t know if that is right to have a private corporation like Facebook, dictating what those boundaries are.”
The music, lighting and format are all designed to facilitate a more sympathetic, and human connection to these challenges, underlining that Facebook has 40,000 staff working on these problems, smart, regular folk like Rochelle and Jack, and that it’s not some faceless, corporate behemoth hell-bent on world domination.
Which is an interesting change of pace from the more aggressive, dismissive tone that Facebook’s PR people have taken to allegations made by former product manager Frances Haugen, who leaked a range of internal research reports about Facebook’s work to understand the impacts of its platforms.
According to Haugen, who faced the Senate last week, these internal documents show that Facebook is well aware of the harms that its apps can cause, but it’s been hesitant to act, at least in some cases, with the implication being that this is due to the potential impact on its bottom line.
Facebook has denied these claims, and has reinforced that it conducts such research in order to improve. But many commentators have criticized Facebook’s attacks on Haugen in response, and its aggressive, even patronizing tone as it seeks to shoot down misconceptions.
This new approach seemingly counters that, by working to provide another perspective on Facebook’s efforts, with each of the clips guiding users through to this site, where Facebook outlines the need for updated internet regulations.
As per the mini-site:
“While we at Facebook are working to make progress, we know that we can’t – and shouldn’t – do it alone. That’s why we support regulations to set clear and fair rules for everyone, and support a safe and secure open internet where creativity and competition can thrive.”
Facebook has been calling for improved regulation for some time, which would take the decision-making onus off its platform, and alleviate concerns around its processes, and motivations, on the same.
How, exactly, those new regulations would work is still to be determined, but Facebook’s argument does make some sense, in that individual platforms should not be left in a position where they have to decide what’s acceptable and what’s not, especially given the scope of their influence over the modern media cycle and speech.
If such regulations were established by an oversight body, that would eliminate one of Facebook’s major headaches, essentially nullifying the allegation that it looks to control or manipulate speech. But then again, the complexities involved, especially when it comes to algorithmic amplification, will be difficult, and will take some time to effectively implement, while they could also make it much harder for new players to come into the sector if they need to meet a range of new requirements to align with such shifts.
You’ll note, too, that in the above screenshot outlining the regulatory changes that Facebook supports, it doesn’t note potential changes to algorithm usage. That, according to Haugen, should be the key focus, with engagement-aligned amplification causing major issues in regards to incentive, exposure and subsequent impacts.
That could be a much bigger battle, and Facebook hasn’t specifically responded to that element as yet. Because Facebook relies on algorithmic matching to maximize usage, and profits, so while Facebook may be looking to outwardly show that it welcomes greater regulation with these new video clips, it’ll be interesting to see which specific aspects of change that it will support, and which it will fight.
Either way, we are, hopefully, on a path to a more informed, constructive debate around this element, with Haugen’s stand setting the stage for a new approach to this key issue.