Listen to: ‘The Facebook Files’ from Wall Street Journal

A review of WSJ's podcast series by Fabian, Co-founder of BTN.

Following the revelations of Wall Street Journal’s investigation into the social media giant, we have listened to and reviewed their podcast series for you. Interviews with the WSJ’s researchers explain Facebook’s internally-known problems and how they cause real-world harms:

Part 1: The Whitelist – Not all users are treated equally on Facebook

Why is this important? Facebook is being promoted by its executives as a platform where everyone is treated equally and has to follow the same set of rules and standards. Yet they allow a group of high-profile users, such as celebrities and politicians, to be exempt from the policies on what content is allowed or not. Thus, Facebook is reinforcing the power structures.

How bad could it be? Really bad if you consider that more than 5 million users are on this whitelist, and could potentially promote violence, hate speech or disinformation without any consequences or enforcement measures. Also, Facebook has even lost track on users they’ve given this get-out-of-jail-for-free card because many employees were able to add new names to the list. There have been several versions of the whitelist across the company, and in some cases the right to be exempt from policies put right into Facebook’s code.

What’s an example of the Whitelist Problem? Facebook has a zero-tolerance policy for normal users who upload revenge porn (‘non consensual intimate imagery’), that is, the post will be immediately deleted and the person’s account deactivated. Yet when football player Neymar, who has more than 100 million followers, posted a video revealing the name and nude photos of a woman who accused him of sexual assault, the company granted him a free-pass while a storm of bullying and harassment rained down on the woman. 

So what? This first revelation of ‘The Facebook Files’ is solid proof of the hypocrisy of Facebook’s executives and especially Mark Zuckerberg.

Part 2: ‘We make body image issues worse’ – A teen mental health deep dive

Why is this important? Over the past decade it became clear that heavy use of social media platforms could cause various mental health problems. Part two of the ‘Facebook Files’ reveals that even Facebook’s internal research proves the negative effects on teen’s mental health: ‘for ⅓ teens, Instagram makes body images worse’. Especially teens are at risk and reported that feelings of anxiety and depression, self-harm, loneliness, or suicidal thoughts came from Instagram.

How harmful could it be? The fact that young users are constantly comparing themselves to what is posted on social media platforms is already bad because it could lead to high levels of anxiety and depression. But a key finding from the studies says that ‘social comparison is worse on Instagram,’ meaning that the platform’s focus on lifestyle and body image causes more harm than Tiktok’s performances or Snapchat’s funny filters. 

What’s the real-world consequence? The podcast episode introduces 18-year old Anastasia, who shares her personal story joining Instagram at age 13. What began with a positive sense of inspiration and empowerment when she began following fitness influencers soon led her to feel bad about her body image, eventually triggering an eating disorder. At the time she began high school, anxiety attacks and insomnia made her life miserable and drove her to the point of suicidal thoughts. With professional help, Anastasia was able to turn things around, and having deleted Instagram for good, can now live her life like a normal teenager.

So what? Instagram evidently shapes the lives and moods of its users and can be especially toxic for teen girls, who suffer real-world harm.

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