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Over 36 cr Facebook users flagged the platform as problematic, which it overlooked: Report

Over 36 cr Facebook users flagged the platform as problematic, which it overlooked: Report
Photo Credit: 123RF.com
7 Nov, 2021

In an ever-growing log of leaked internal documents known as Facebook Files, the Wall Street Journal has now claimed that the company had data from internal user reports to clearly reveal the problematic bits of its existence. 

The WSJ report claims that over 360 million, or 36 crore users of the social media platform flagged it for contributing to “compulsive” social media use among them. Such usage patterns had impacts on their parenting, relationships, sleep cycles and work, meaning that one in every eight Facebook users reportedly saw some compulsive impact due to their usage of the platform.

Interestingly, the report further claims that Facebook had initially set up a team focused on user well-being on its platforms. However, the team was signed off in 2019 – after suggesting some practices to help the Facebook group instill checks and balances in their apps that would encourage their users to spend time away.

The report is a part of many leaked internal documents from Facebook, filed by whistleblower Frances Haugen, who has now testified before the US Congress. 

Haugen has levied allegations of wilful disregard from Facebook to regulate itself in terms of catering to various issues of mental health that a usage addiction can cause. 

She has also claimed that while Facebook was aware of a lot of its issues especially with regards to user addictions and related anxiety, it did not take any action to address them.

In response to the WSJ report, Pratiti Raychoudhury, Facebook VP and head of research, wrote in a blog post that the allegations ignore its “approach to well-being research.” 

As she said, “The Wall Street Journal has once again chosen to selectively pick and choose from internal company documents to present a narrative that is simply wrong about how we use research to address an important issue – this time about problematic use.”

“Our company has been engaged and supportive throughout our multiyear effort to better understand and empower people who use our services to manage problematic use. That’s why this work has taken place over multiple years, including now,” Raychoudhury added.

The response by Facebook goes on to claim that it has increased the number of features available to users to deal with problematic usage of its apps since 2018, and the allegation of the company having discontinued its efforts around user well-being is something that “couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Raychoudhury also states that the internal document cited in the WSJ report was published at an academic conference in 2019. The latter meant for Facebook to build tools that would help users better deal with problematic usage, and formed an early-stage research in this regard.

“While a causal link between social media and addiction has not been found, and overall, research suggests that, on average, social media does not have a major detrimental impact on well-being, we still want to provide people with tools to help them manage it however they see fit,” Raychoudhury further claimed. Facebook’s full response can be read here.

As voices of dissent against Facebook and citations of its myriad problems grow, it remains to be seen what kind of external regulatory action does the company finally draw in these regards. While many have called out for the company to be broken up and for CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s stranglehold control to be relaxed, a conclusive action in these regards is yet to be seen.

Facebook, meanwhile, has since rebranded its umbrella presence to Meta. The latter is largely to indicate its intent on pushing for a virtual reality-based social media presence, as showcased by the metaverse previewed by Zuckerberg in his latest presentation.