Facebook Firestorm – Pot versus Kettle, both boil water

It was two back-to-back body blows for Facebook with a whistleblower coming out about information that the company is aware of the negative effect their platform can have on users.  To add to this all three of the companies’ platforms; Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp experienced outages bringing the platform down for many of its users for the better part of a day.  Now the mainstream media and the U.S. lawmakers look for the head shot for its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg when it should be looking at the media industry in general not just those using the internet.

Now in the spotlight is, Frances Haugen, the 37-year-old former Facebook product manager who worked on civic integrity issues at the company.   Haugen has been identified as the Facebook whistleblower appearing on a “60 Minutes” interview revealing that she was the person who released tens of thousands of pages of internal research and documents indicating the company was aware of various problems caused by its apps, including Instagram’s potential “toxic” effect on young girls, to regulators and the Wall Street Journal.  Haugen also said that she would be testifying before a Senate subcommittee to convince lawmakers to take action against the tech giant and its social media platforms.

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg released a statement on his personal Facebook page addressing the service outage and Haugen’s testimony.  Zuckerberg’s post started off with “I wanted to share a note I wrote to everyone at our company.” His statement goes on to talk about the positives of their platforms and the importance of the work that everyone does in the company.  It seems the allegations that Facebooks’ platforms pose a potential “toxic” effect on the young struck a nerve with Zuckerberg with him writing, “Of everything published, I’m particularly focused on the questions raised about our work with kids. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the kinds of experiences I want my kids and others to have online, and it’s very important to me that everything we build is safe and good for kids.  The reality is that young people use technology. Think about how many school-age kids have phones. Rather than ignoring this, technology companies should build experiences that meet their needs while also keeping them safe. We’re deeply committed to doing industry-leading work in this area.”

Zuckerberg goes on to write, “Similar to balancing other social issues, I don’t believe private companies should make all of the decisions on their own. That’s why we have advocated for updated internet regulations for several years now. I have testified in Congress multiple times and asked them to update these regulations. I’ve written op-eds outlining the areas of regulation we think are most important related to elections, harmful content, privacy, and competition.”

We agree with Zuckerberg when he writes, “If we’re going to have an informed conversation about the effects of social media on young people, it’s important to start with a full picture. We’re committed to doing more research ourselves and making more research publicly available.”  However, we believe that it needs to be taken one step further and dive deeper into the impact that all media has on viewers not just those on the internet platforms.  

We also agree with Zuckerberg when he writes, “The argument that we (Facebook) deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical.”  As a publisher, like Facebook, we make money from ads, and advertisers consistently tell us they don’t want their ads next to content that might be considered negative to readers and this is why we focus on positive stories about industry and business.  In saying that we know that is not the case for all medias.  In order to sell advertising, they need readers or viewers and unfortunately news media tends to focus on the negative to generate viewership making this a media issue not a social media one.

Why is this? Well, research has shown that across a wide array of psychological events, people tend to focus more on the negative as they try to make sense of the world.  We tend to pay more attention to negative events than positive ones. We also learn more from negative outcomes and experiences and unfortunately make decisions based on negative information more than positive data.  So, it is more or less the bad things that happen to us or around the world that grab our attention, stick to our memories, and in many cases, influence the decisions that we make.

If we take a deeper dive into the matter, Psychological research suggests that the negative bias influences motivation to complete a task. It also shows that people in general have less motivation when an incentive is framed as a means to gain or get something, rather when the same incentive will help them avoid the loss of something.  Sound familiar!!!  This can play a role in your motivation to pursue a goal. Rather than focusing on what you will gain if you keep working toward something, you’re more likely to focus on what you might have to give up or lose in order to achieve another goal.

Want to know why you see what you do on television and in the newspapers?  Well, studies have shown long before Facebook or the internet for that matter was around, that negative news is more likely to be perceived as truthful. Since negative information draws greater attention, it also may be seen as having greater validity. This might be why bad news seems to garner more attention.

This is not just limited to what you see on television, in newspapers and on the internet, it also comes into play on just about all issues, especially ones that are politically based or matters related to rights and freedoms as we are seeing with the current covid protocols and government restrictions.

All that I ask is that when you find yourself interpreting something in a negative way, or only focusing on the bad aspect of the situation before you get your temper boiling on the issue or event do your own research and separate the facts from fiction.  Differentiate if this is someone else’s narrative or is it your own?  How you interpret issues and events is usually based on your personal experiences of the people around you.  So, when forming your own opinion on the issue or event be open to hearing all sides before drawing a line in the sand and determine if a line even needs to be drawn.  With most issues, in my opinion, it usually makes more sense to work together than to take the divide to conquer approach.  


by Lee Ann Atwater