Facebook admits social media can 'corrode democracy'

For years, Facebook touted itself as a tool for connecting the world and giving every person a voice.Now the w...

Posted: Jan 22, 2018 9:11 PM
Updated: Jan 22, 2018 9:11 PM

For years, Facebook touted itself as a tool for connecting the world and giving every person a voice.

Now the world's largest social network is admitting there may be an unintended consequence to social networks: the undermining of democracy.

"At its best, [social media] allows us to express ourselves and take action," Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook's product manager for civic engagement, wrote in a blog post Monday. "At its worst, it allows people to spread misinformation and corrode democracy."

Chakrabarti added: "I wish I could guarantee that the positives are destined to outweigh the negatives, but I can't."

The startling comments are part of a new series of blog posts from Facebook executives and outside experts about the impact of social media on democracy. They come amid a wave of concerns from lawmakers, voters and tech industry employees about the damage done to societies by Facebook and other massive online platforms.

Since the 2016 U.S. election, there has been a steady drumbeat of damaging headlines about fake news, polarizing filter bubbles and Russian propaganda campaigns on Facebook as well as Twitter and Google's YouTube.

"From the Arab Spring to robust elections around the globe, social media seemed like a positive," Katie Harbath, Facebook's global politics and government outreach director, wrote in a separate blog post Monday. "The last US presidential campaign changed that."

Harbath cited "foreign interference that Facebook should have been quicker to identify" as well as "the rise of 'fake news' and echo chambers." Chakrabarti also said Facebook was "far too slow to recognize how bad actors were abusing our platform."

Related: Silicon Valley's 'gut-wrenching' year confronting its dark side

Facebook is facing pressure to prove it can do better. Executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google were called to testify before Congress for several hearings on propaganda and misinformation last year.

"I don't think you get it," Sen. Diane Feinstein, a Democrat representing Facebook's home state of California, told the tech executives at one hearing in November. "What we're talking about is a cataclysmic change. What we're talking about is the beginning of cyber warfare... You have a huge problem on your hands."

The unrelenting criticism has prompted what can only be described as a months-long apology tour from current and former Facebook executives, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

In a remarkably candid post for Yom Kippur last year, Zuckerberg apologized for "the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together."

Zuckerberg said this month his personal goal for 2018 is "fixing" Facebook's many existential problems, including "defending against interference by nation states."

To that end, Facebook recently announced plans to prioritize articles in its News Feed from news organizations that it deems more "trustworthy," based on surveys of its users.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 730969

Reported Deaths: 13434
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1000031743
Lake53771970
Allen40668678
St. Joseph35733552
Hamilton35629408
Elkhart28577442
Tippecanoe22402219
Vanderburgh22310397
Porter18776308
Johnson17970379
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Clark12985191
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Monroe11893170
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Bartholomew8070156
Warrick7784155
Floyd7669178
Grant7060174
Wayne7051199
Boone6700101
Morgan6576139
Dubois6156117
Marshall6050111
Dearborn581378
Cass5808105
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Noble561384
Jackson501773
Shelby491996
Lawrence4546120
Harrison435872
Gibson435492
DeKalb428485
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Steuben387857
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Ohio Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 1085733

Reported Deaths: 19441
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1261201400
Cuyahoga1124072120
Hamilton801491206
Montgomery515591014
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Butler38396584
Stark32412907
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Mahoning21629588
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Clermont19803238
Delaware18537133
Licking16436212
Fairfield16230200
Trumbull16082468
Medina15309264
Greene15099244
Clark14017299
Wood13113189
Portage12890203
Allen11675232
Richland11382199
Miami10686217
Wayne8843211
Columbiana8816229
Muskingum8815133
Pickaway8582121
Marion8539135
Tuscarawas8487244
Erie7917154
Hancock6929127
Ross6858155
Ashtabula6830170
Geauga6697148
Scioto6417101
Belmont5920167
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Lawrence5560102
Jefferson5544151
Huron5439119
Darke5364123
Sandusky5359121
Seneca5290121
Athens520058
Washington5160109
Auglaize491984
Mercer480885
Shelby470093
Knox4495110
Madison436661
Putnam4287100
Fulton423969
Ashland423189
Defiance421097
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Brown395057
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Preble379898
Clinton372963
Ottawa367479
Highland355662
Williams340275
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Guernsey316253
Jackson312652
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Henry269366
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Gallia235949
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Meigs144940
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Monroe132342
Harrison108537
Morgan108523
Vinton83515
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