Facebook has finally issued a mea culpa as it relates to the potentially deleterious effect on democracy social media can have. *Cough* Russia. *Cough, cough* On Monday, Facebook executives and outside experts issued the closest thing we may see to an apology for how the company has impacted our political system. These takeaways were released in a series of blog posts for the platform’s Hard Questions series.
"In 2016, we at Facebook were far too slow to recognize how bad actors were abusing our platform. We’re working diligently to neutralize these risks now," Samidh Chakrabarti, who leads Facebook’s civic engagement team, wrote. Le duh. Indeed, Facebook’s outside experts pointed to the 2016 election as proof that the platform could be abused. Global politics and government outreach director at Facebook, Katie Harbath, wrote, "From the Arab Spring to robust elections around the globe, social media seemed like a positive." But like with most things, there’s a always downside. “The last US presidential campaign changed that, with foreign interference that Facebook should have been quicker to identify to the rise of 'fake news' and echo chambers,” Harbath continued.
Experts weren’t quick to discredit the democratic value of Facebook. “On balance, the question of whether social media platforms are good for democracy is easy ... they are not merely good; they are terrific," wrote Harvard professor and author Cass Sunstein. "For people to govern themselves, they need to have information. They also need to be able to convey it to others. Social media platforms make that tons easier." However, the democratic objective of discourse is somewhat at odds with Facebook’s objective to give users a personalized experience.
With all that in mind, Facebook officials say they’re "working to make politics on Facebook more transparent," as Chakrabarti said. The platform has taken steps like requiring organizations running election-related ads to confirm their identities, to prevent another fake news fiasco. In the meantime, don’t be a dummy and be a good Facebook citizen. Vet what you post, fam.