In recent months, it seemed as if it couldn’t get any worse for Facebook until it did. Two weeks ago, whistle-blower Frances Haugen testified before a Senate subcommittee on repeated failings from Facebook to address a multitude of wide-ranging concerns. They stretch from the negative impacts of social media on teenagers to Facebook’s alleged prioritization of user engagement with harmful content over policing their platform. Facebook, and the social media sector, have skated by in recent years with a lack of regulation and oversight. Now, this isn’t all to say the sky is falling and Facebook will fail, but to show the assortment of challenges Facebook, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, face going forward.
No Trusted Spokesperson: Recent polling research has shown that Facebook is often the least trusted major internet enterprise and Zuckerberg as the least favorable, recognizable CEO. The company’s current predicament isn’t helped by not having a trusted face or spokesperson. Zuckerberg’s lack of relatability doesn’t drive any empathy, leading to more distrust anytime large public dismissals are made.
“Engagement-Based Ranking”: Since the 2016 Presidential elections, Facebook has had trouble regulating their platforms. There has been flipflopping over regulating of user content, to suspension of accounts but until Haugen, this strategy hadn’t really been made public. It centers around highlighting, often controversial, content because nothing gets people talking or interacting online like getting them angry. This directly drives user engagement and advertising revenue putting Facebook and Instagram’s bottom-line over healthy content.
Negative Effects On Teenagers: There has always been speculation over the negative impacts of social media but leaked internal research from Facebook has shown that they have been aware for years. Their own findings show that 32% of teenaged girls feel bad about themselves after using Instagram. Facebook has constantly dismissed concerns, yet their own data contradicts their public stance.
Regulation Incoming? Facebook has been an easy target for government officials for a long time now but following Haugen’s recent testimony maybe there will be an actual appetite for change and federal oversight. It remains to be seen what will happen, or if a bipartisan consensus can be found, but there’s a chance of legal oversight changing their purview.
Facebook has seemed bulletproof through many scandals but maybe this will be the straw that will break the camel’s back. Facebook executives have fallen back on idea that AI will be able to protect users but new findings are disputing that capability while Facebook has fallen back on their overused dismissal rhetoric. At the same time, desperation can be found at Instagram, as more teenagers choose to use rivals Snapchat and Tiktok, separating Instagram from its future audience.
Can social responsibilities outweigh fiduciary duties? Recent evidence says probably not but with a renewed federal appetite for oversight maybe Facebook can start addressing these issues and regaining public trust.