News Update

Analysis: The Facebook Papers consortium is growing, and reporters are gaining access to more documents

The Facebook Papers consortium is growing.
Last week the number of American news outlets with access to internal Facebook documents supplied to the SEC by Frances Haugen stood at 17. Those outlets — from CNN to Politico, Washington Post to WIRED — agreed to a Monday morning embargo, which is why more than 50 stories all came out on the same day.
There are many more stories in the works — and there are more newsrooms joining the consortium. Platformer’s Casey Newton wrote Monday night that “a host of new publications joined the consortium today, ensuring another volley of coverage designed to squeeze more juice from the rind.”
One of the new participants, Shoshana Wodinsky of Gizmodo, posted a tweet alluding to her “suddenly” becoming part of the group. I also hear that The Guardian, which was missing last week, is now on board, along with CNBC and The New York Post. As Ben Smith of The New York Times reported, the competing-yet-coordinating newsrooms are keeping in touch via Slack.
Another one of the members, The Associated Press, has a handy explainer of the arrangement here. “Each member of the consortium pursued its own independent reporting on the document contents and their significance,” the wire said. “Every member also had the opportunity to attend group briefings to gain information and context about the documents.”

The documents will keep flowing for weeks

The “Facebook Papers” are not just a one- or two-day story. Reporters and editors are expecting to receive additional documents for at least the next couple of weeks.
Remember, this is all based on what Haugen submitted to the SEC. Redacted versions of the documents are being shared with members of Congress and members of the news media on an ongoing basis. “That process continues as Haugen’s legal team goes through the process of redacting the SEC filings,” for instance by removing names of Facebook users, The AP explained.
Newton said in his Monday night newsletter that “I continue to receive new documents every week day,” adding, “The documents arrive with no particular eye toward organization or theme.” He said “it’s extraordinary to be able to read these documents and learn more about the company,” but also acknowledged that the drip-drip-drip serves Haugen’s interests.
Whether there will be sustained public interest in the drip-drip-drip is an open question. During a live audio chat with Newton and other reporters on Twitter Monday night, veteran tech journalist Steven Levy predicted that assignment editors and readers would tire of the stories before long.
Laura McGann, a former editor at Vox and Politico, commented in a tweet that “the Facebook revelations are a good example of how exposes will always be more enticing to media and audience than the same story that was observably true all along: We saw with our own eyes that Facebook pushes content that riles people up.”

Eight recommended reads

Katie Harbath is keeping a Google Doc with a list of every “Facebook Papers” story. Protocol has a list going, too. At the risk of leaving out lots of impressive journalism, I want to highlight a handful of stories that are worth spending time with:
“How Facebook Fails 90 Percent of its Users:” That’s the provocative title of an article by The Atlantic’s projects editor Ellen Cushing. “These documents show that the Facebook we have in the United States is actually the platform at its best,” she writes. “In the most vulnerable parts of the world — places with limited internet access, where smaller user numbers mean bad actors have undue influence — the trade-offs and mistakes that Facebook makes can have deadly consequences.”
Here’s an example via CNN’s Eliza Mackintosh: “Facebook knew it was being used to incite violence in Ethiopia. It did little to stop the spread, documents show.”
“Facebook has known it has a human trafficking problem for years,” and still hasn’t fully fixed it, CNN’s Clare Duffy writes. Duffy used search terms listed in FB’s internal research to find active Instagram accounts purporting to offer domestic workers for sale, and the company removed the accounts and posts due to her inquiry.
— In the internal documents supplied by Haugen, showing conversations among rank and file FB employees, “a common theme is anger.” John Hendel’s piece for Politico highlights some of the most striking comments.
— Steven Levy’s WIRED headline hitting on a similar theme: “Facebook failed the people who tried to improve it.”
— One of USA Today’s headlines: FB “says it’s winning the fight against hate speech targeting Black Americans. Its own research says otherwise.
— Get acquainted with the “Single User Multiple Accounts” problem: “How Facebook users wield multiple accounts to spread toxic politics.”
— Bloomberg’s story about a business quandary that Mark Zuckerberg is determined to address: “Facebook, alarmed by teen usage drop, left investors in the dark.”

What we’ve lost

On Tuesday the New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul is coming out with a rather timely book titled “100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet.” It’s a thoughtful tour of the pre-Internet age, and it inspired me to ask for her read of this present moment.
“I think the Facebook revelations are really just confirmations of what many people have long suspected or been through personally. It’s just that now we know that the effects of social media that we’ve perceived or felt on a gut (read: sucker punch) level were well known and even deliberate on the part of the company,” Paul wrote to me.
“Take, for example, the known effects of ‘likes’ or the absence thereof, on teens’ self-esteem,” she wrote. “When you think back to the Before Times, teenagers *always* worried about what their peers thought. The problem now is that they *know* — and their worst fears are often confirmed in easily quantifiable and public ways. In the book, I write about how some of those formerly common human experiences and emotions — uninhibitedness, secrets, unpopular opinions, ignoring people, private observances— are now gone, or severely compromised. Think about how Instagram alone changes teenage life. What would high school have been like for Romy and Michelle if they’d been on Instagram?”

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