Premiered October 30, 2018
A major investigation of Facebook’s impact on privacy and democracy around the world.
Facebook’s promise was to create a more open and connected world. FRONTLINE finds that multiple warnings about the platform’s negative impact on privacy and democracy were eclipsed by Facebook’s relentless pursuit of growth.
NARRATOR: Tonight, part one of a two-night special.
We face a number of important issues around privacy, safety, and democracy.
NARRATOR: “Frontline” investigates… Facebook.
We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility and it was my mistake, and I’m sorry.
NARRATOR: Told by company insiders…
It’s possible that we haven’t been as fast as we needed to be.
We’ve been too slow to act on…
We didn’t see it fast enough…
I think we were too slow…
NARRATOR: …and former employees.
I mean everybody was pretty upset that we hadn’t caught it during the election.
NARRATOR: How Facebook was used to disrupt democracy around the globe.
I don’t think any of us, Mark included, appreciated how much of an effect we might have had.
NARRATOR: Correspondent James Jacoby takes a hard look at the man who wanted to connect the world.
JACOBY: Is he not recognizing the importance of his platform?
He didn’t understand what he had built.
NARRATOR: But is he accountable for helping divide it?
There is something wrong systemically with the Facebook algorithms. In effect, polarization was the key to the model.
NARRATOR: Tonight on “Frontline”– “The Facebook Dilemma.” (birds chirping)
Are we good?
Should I put the beer down?
Nah, no, actually, I’m gonna mention the beer. (laughing)
Hard at work.
So I’m here in Palo Alto, California, chilling with Mark Zuckerberg of the Facebook.com, and we’re drinking out of a keg of Heineken because… what are we celebrating, Mark?
We just got three million users.
11, 12, 13…
Tell us, you know, simply what Facebook is.
I think Facebook is an online directory for colleges. I realized that because I didn’t have people’s information, I needed to make it interesting enough so that people would want to use the site and want to, like, put their information up. So we launched it at Harvard, and within a couple of weeks, two-thirds of the school had signed up. So we’re, like, “All right, this is pretty sweet, like, let’s just go all out.” I mean, it’s just interesting seeing how it evolves. We have a sweet office.
Yeah, well, show us… show us around the crib. (talking in background) We didn’t want cubicles, so we got IKEA kitchen tables instead. I thought that kind of went along with our whole vibe here.
Uh-huh. What’s in your fridge?
Some stuff. There’s some beer down there.
How many people work for you?
It’s actually 20 right now.
Did you get this shot, this one here, the lady riding a pit bull?
All right, it’s really all I’ve got.
Where are you taking Facebook at this point in your life?
Um, I mean… there doesn’t necessarily have to be more.
From the early days, Mark had this vision of connecting the whole world. So if Google was about providing you access to all the information, Facebook was about connecting all the people.
Can you just say your name and pronounce it so nobody messes it up and they have it on tape?
Sure, it’s Mark Zuckerberg.
It was not crazy. Somebody was going to connect all those people, why not him?
We have our Facebook Fellow, we have Mark Zuckerberg.
I have the pleasure of introducing Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.com. (applause)
When Mark Zuckerberg was at Harvard, he was fascinated by hacker culture, this notion that software programmers could do things that would shock the world.
And a lot of times, people are just, like, too careful. I think it’s more useful to, like, make things happen and then, like, apologize later, than it is to make sure that you dot all your I’s now and then, like, just not get stuff done.
So it was a little bit of a renegade philosophy and a disrespect for authority that led to the Facebook motto “Move fast and break things.”
Never heard of Facebook? (laughing)
Our school went crazy for the Facebook.
It creates its own world that you get sucked into.
We started adding things like status updates and photos and groups and apps. When we first launched, we were hoping for, you know, maybe 400, 500 people. (cheering)
Toast to the first 100 million, and the next 100 million.
So you’re motivated by what?
Building things that, you know, change the world in a way that it needs to be changed.
Who is Barack Obama? The answer is right there on my Facebook page.
In those days, “move fast and break things” didn’t seem to be sociopathic.
If you’re building a product that people love, you can make a lot of mistakes.
It wasn’t that they intended to do harm so much as they were unconcerned about the possibility that harm would result.
So just to be clear, you’re not going to sell or share any of the information on Facebook?
We’re not gonna share people’s information, except for with the people that they’ve asked for it to be shared.
Technology optimism was so deeply ingrained in the value system and in the beliefs of people in Silicon Valley…
We’re here for a hackathon, so let’s get started.
…that they’d come to believe it is akin to the law of gravity, that of course technology makes the world a better place. It always had, it always will. And that assumption essentially masked a set of changes that were going on in the culture that were very dangerous.
From KXJZ in Sacramento…
For Monday, June 27…
NARRATOR: Mark Zuckerberg’s quest to connect the world would bring about historic change, and far-reaching consequences, in politics, privacy, and technology. We’ve been investigating warning signs that existed long before problems burst into public view.
It was my mistake, and I’m sorry…
NARRATOR: But for those inside Facebook, the story began with an intoxicating vision that turned into a lucrative business plan.
Well, the one thing that Mark Zuckerberg has been so good at is being incredibly clear and compelling about the mission that Facebook has always had.
Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share. Give people the power to share. In order to make the world more open and connected… More open and connected… Open and connected… More open and connected. (applause)
JAMES JACOBY: How pervasive a mission was that inside of the company? Give me a sense of that.
It was something that… You know, Mark doesn’t just say it when we do, you know, ordered calisthenics in the morning and we yell the mission to each other, right? We would actually say it to each other, you know, when Mark wasn’t around.
JACOBY: And that was a mission that you really believed in?
How could you not? How exciting. What if connecting the world actually delivered a promise that we’ve been looking for to genuinely make the world a better place?
JACOBY: Was there ever a point where there was questions internally about this mission being naive optimism?
I think the short answer is completely yes, and I think that’s why we loved it. Especially in a moment like when we crossed a billion monthly active users for the first time. And Mark’s… the way I recall Mark at the time, I remember thinking, “I don’t think Mark is going to stop until he gets to everybody.”
I think some of us had an early understanding that we were creating in some ways a digital nation-state. This was the greatest experiment in free speech in human history.
There was a sense inside the company that we are building the future and there was a real focus on youth being a good thing. It was not a particularly diverse workforce. It was very much the sort of Harvard, Stanford, Ivy League group of people who were largely in their 20s.
I was a big believer in the company. Like, I knew that it was going to be a paradigm-shifting thing. There was this, definitely this feeling of everything for the company, of this, you know, world-stirring vision. Everyone more or less dressed with the same fleece and swag with logo on it. Posters on the wall that looked somewhat Orwellian. But, of course, you know, in an upbeat way, obviously. And, you know, some of the slogans are pretty well-known– “Move fast and break things,” “Fortune favors the bold,” “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” You know, it was always this sort of rousing rhetoric that would push you to go further.
NARRATOR: Antonio Garcia Martinez, a former product manager on Facebook’s advertising team, is one of eight former Facebook insiders who agreed to talk on camera about their experiences.
In Silicon Valley, there’s a, you know, almost a mafioso code of silence that you’re not supposed to talk about the business in any but the most flattering way, right? Basically, you can’t say anything, you know, measured or truthful about the business. And I think, as perhaps with Facebook, it’s kind of arrived at the point at which it’s so important, it needs to be a little more transparent about how it works. Like, let’s stop the little (bleep) parade about everyone in Silicon Valley, you know, creating, disrupting this and improving the world, right? It’s, in many ways, a business like any other. It’s just kind of more exciting and impactful. (Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” playing)
NARRATOR: By 2007, Zuckerberg had made it clear that the goal of the business was worldwide expansion.
Almost a year ago, when we were first discussing how to let everyone in the world into Facebook, I remember someone said to me, “Mark, we already have nearly every college student in the U.S. on Facebook. It’s incredible that we were even able to do that. But no one gets a second trick like that.” Well, let’s take a look at how we did. (cheering and applause)
JACOBY: What was the growth team about? What did you do at growth?
The story of growth has really been about making Facebook available to people that wanted it but couldn’t have access to it.
NARRATOR: Naomi Gleit, Facebook’s second-longest serving employee, is one of five officials the company put forward to talk to Frontline. She was an original member of the growth team.
One of my first projects was expanding Facebook to high school students. I worked on translating Facebook into over a hundred languages. When I joined, there were one million users, and now there’s over two billion people using Facebook every month.
JACOBY: Some of the problems that have reared their head with Facebook over the past couple of years seem to have been caused in some ways by this exponential growth.
So, I think Mark– and Mark has said this, that we have been slow to really understand the ways in which Facebook might be used for bad things. We’ve been really focused on the good things.
So who are all of these new users?
The growth team had tons of engineers figuring out how you could make the new user experience more engaging, how you could figure out how to get more people to sign up. Everyone was focused on growth, growth, growth.
Give people the power to share.
NARRATOR: And the key to keeping all these new people engaged…
To make the world more open and connected.
NARRATOR: …was Facebook’s most important feature…
NARRATOR: News Feed, the seemingly endless stream of stories, pictures, and updates shared by friends, advertisers, and others.
It analyzes all the information available to each user, and it actually computes what’s going to be the most interesting piece of information, and then publishes a little story for them.
It’s your personalized newspaper, it’s your “The New York Times” of you, channel you. It is, you know, your customized, optimized vision of the world.
NARRATOR: But what appeared in users’ News Feed wasn’t random. It was driven by a secret mathematical formula, an algorithm.
The stories are ranked in terms of what’s going to be the most important, and we design a lot of algorithms so we can produce interesting content for you.
The goal of the News Feed is to provide you, the user, with the content on Facebook that you most want to see. It is designed to make you want to keep scrolling, keep looking, keep liking.
That’s the key. That’s the secret sauce. That’s how… that’s why we’re worth X billion dollars.
NARRATOR: The addition of the new “like” button in 2009 allowed News Feed to collect vast amounts of users’ personal data that would prove invaluable to Facebook.
At the time we were a little bit skeptical about the like button– we were concerned. And as it turned out our intuition was just dead wrong. And what we found was that the like button acted as a social lubricant. And, of course, it was also driving this flywheel of engagement, that people felt like they were heard on the platform whenever they shared something.
Connect to it by liking it…
And it became a driving force for the product.
It was incredibly important because it allowed us to understand who are the people that you care more about, that cause you to react, and who are the businesses, the pages, the other interests on Facebook that are important to you. And that gave us a degree of constantly increasing understanding about people.
News Feed got off to a bit of a rocky start, and now our users love News Feed. They love it.
NARRATOR: News Feed’s exponential growth was spurred on by the fact that existing laws didn’t hold internet companies liable for all the content being posted on their sites.
So, section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is the provision which allows the internet economy to grow and thrive. And Facebook is one of the principal beneficiaries of this provision. It says don’t hold this internet company responsible if some idiot says something violent on the site. Don’t hold the internet company responsible if somebody publishes something that creates conflict, that violates the law. It’s the quintessential provision that allows them to say, “Don’t blame us.”
NARRATOR: So it was up to Facebook to make the rules, and inside the company, they made a fateful decision.
We took a very libertarian perspective here. We allowed people to speak and we said, “If you’re going to incite violence, that’s clearly out of bounds. We’re going to kick you off immediately.” But we’re going to allow people to go right up to the edge and we’re going to allow other people to respond. We had to set up some ground rules. Basic decency, no nudity, and no violent or hateful speech. And after that, we felt some reluctance to interpose our value system on this worldwide community that was growing.
JACOBY: Was there not a concern, then, that it could be become sort of a place of just utter confusion, that you have lies that are given the same weight as truths, and that it kind of just becomes a place where truth becomes completely obfuscated?
No. We relied on what we thought were the public’s common sense and common decency to police the site.
NARRATOR: That approach would soon contribute to real-world consequences far from Silicon Valley, where Mark Zuckerberg’s optimistic vision at first seemed to be playing out. (crowd chanting) The Arab Spring had come to Egypt. (crowd chanting) It took hold with the help of a Facebook page protesting abuses by the regime of Hosni Mubarak.
Not that I was thinking that this Facebook page was going to be effective. I just did not want to look back and say that happened and I just didn’t do anything about it.
NARRATOR: At the time, Wael Ghonim was working for Google in the Middle East.
In just three days, over 100,000 people joined the page. Throughout the next few months, the page was growing until what happened in Tunisia.
Events in Tunisia have captured the attention of viewers around the world, and a lot of it was happening online.
It took just 28 days until the fall of the regime.
And it just created for me a moment of, “Maybe we can do this.” And I just posted an event calling for a revolution in ten days, like we should all get to the street and we should all bring down Mubarak.
Organized by a group of online activists…
They’re calling it the Facebook Revolution… (crowd chanting)
NARRATOR: Within days, Ghonim’s online cry had helped fill the streets of Cairo with hundreds of thousands of protesters. (crowd chanting) 18 days later…
(translated): President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down. (cheering)
They have truly achieved the unimaginable.
MAN: It’s generally acknowledged that Ghonim’s Facebook page first sparked the protests.
JACOBY: There was a moment that you were being interviewed on CNN.
Yeah, I remember that.
First Tunisia, now Egypt, what’s next?
The technology was, for me, the enabler. I would have not have been able to engage with others, I would have not been able to propagate my ideas to others without social media, without Facebook.
You’re giving Facebook a lot of credit for this?
Yeah, for sure. I want to meet Mark Zuckerberg one day and thank him, actually.
Had you ever think that this could have an impact on revolution?
You know, my own opinion is that it would be extremely arrogant for any specific technology company to claim any meaningful role in, in those. But I do think that the overall trend that’s at play here, which is people being able to share what they want with the people who they want, is an extremely powerful thing, right? And we’re kind of fundamentally rewiring the world from the ground up. And it starts with people…
They were relatively restrained externally about taking credit for it, but internally they were, I would say, very happy to take credit for the idea that social media was being used to effect democratic change.
Activists and civil society leaders would just come up to me and say, you know, “Wow, we couldn’t have done this without you guys.” Government officials, you know, would say, “Does Facebook really realize how much you guys are changing our societies?”
It felt like Facebook had extraordinary power, and power for good.
NARRATOR: But while Facebook was enjoying its moment… (man shouting, crowd chanting) Back in Egypt, on the ground and on Facebook, the situation was unraveling.
Following the revolution, things went into a much worse direction than what we have anticipated.
There’s a complete split between the civil community and those who are calling for an Islamic state.
What was happening in Egypt was polarization.
Deadly clashes between Christians and military police.
(translated): The Brotherhood cannot rule this country.
And all these voices started to clash, and the environment on social media breeded that kind of clash, like that polarization– rewarded it.
When the Arab Spring happened, I know that a lot of people in Silicon Valley thought our technologies helped bring freedom to people, which was true. But there’s a twist to this, which is Facebook’s News Feed algorithm.
If you increase the tone of your posts against your opponents, you are gonna get more distribution. Because we tend to be more tribal. So if I call my opponents names, my tribe is happy and celebrating, “Yes, do it, like, comment, share, so more people end up seeing it.” Because the algorithm is going to say, “Oh, okay, that’s engaging content, people like it, show it to more people.”
There were also other groups of thugs, part of the pattern of sectarian violence.
The hardest part for me was seeing the tool that brought us together tearing us apart. These tools are just enablers for whomever, they don’t separate between what’s good and bad. They just look at engagement metrics.
NARRATOR: Ghonim himself became a victim of those metrics.
There was a page, it had, like, hundreds of thousands of followers– all what it did was creating fake statements, and I was a victim of that page. They wrote statements about me insulting the army, which puts me at serious risk because that is not something I said. I was extremely naive in a way I don’t like, actually, now, thinking that these are liberating tools. It’s the spread of misinformation, fake news, in Egypt in 2011.
NARRATOR: He says he later talked to people he knew at Facebook and other companies about what was going on.
I tried to talk to people who are in Silicon Valley, but I feel like it was not, it was not being heard.
JACOBY: What were you trying to express to people in Silicon Valley at the time?
It’s very serious. Whatever that we… that you are building has massive, serious unintended consequences on the lives of people on this planet. And you are not investing enough in trying to make sure that what you are building does not go in the wrong way. And it’s very hard to be in their position. No matter how they try and move and change things, there will be always unintended consequences.
Activists in my region were on the front lines of, you know, spotting corners of Facebook that the rest of the world, the rest of the company, wasn’t yet talking about, because in a company that’s built off numbers and metrics and measurements, anecdotes sometimes got lost along the way. And that was always a real challenge, and always bothered me.
NARRATOR: Elizabeth Linder, Facebook’s representative in the region at the time, was also hearing warnings from government officials.
So many country representatives were expressing to me a huge concern about the ability of rumors to spread on Facebook, and what do you do about that?
JACOBY: How did you respond to that at the time?
We, we didn’t have a solution for it, and so the best that I could do is report back to headquarters that this is something that I was hearing on the ground.
JACOBY: And what sort of response would you get from headquarters?
You know, I… it’s impossible to be specific about that, because it was always just kind of a, “This is what I’m hearing, this is what’s going on.” But I think in a… in a company where the, the people that could have actually, you know, had an impact on making those decisions are not necessarily seeing it firsthand.
I think everything that happened after the Arab Spring should have been a warning sign to Facebook.
NARRATOR: Zeynep Tufecki, a researcher and former computer programmer, had also been raising alarms to Facebook and other social media companies.
These companies were terribly understaffed, in over their heads in terms of the important role they were playing. Like, all of a sudden you’re the public sphere in Egypt. So I kept starting to talk to my friends at these companies and saying, “You have to staff up. You have to put in large amounts of people who speak the language, who understand the culture, who understand the complexities of wherever you happen to operate.”
NARRATOR: But Facebook hadn’t been set up to police the amount of content coming from all the new places it was expanding to.
I think no one at any of these companies in Silicon Valley has the resources for this kind of scale. You had queues of work for people to go through and hundreds of employees who would spend all day every day clicking yes, no, keep, take down, take down, take down, keep up, keep up, making judgment calls, snap judgment calls, about, “Does it violate our terms of service? Does it violate our standards of decency? What are the consequences of this speech?” So you have this fabulously talented group of mostly 20-somethings who are deciding what speech matters, and they’re doing it in real time, all day, every day.
JACOBY: Isn’t that scary?
It’s terrifying. Right? The responsibility was awesome. No one could ever have predicted how fast Facebook would grow. The, the trajectory of growth of the user base and of the issues was like this. And of all… all staffing throughout the company was like this. The company was trying to make money, it was trying to keep costs down. It had to be a going concern. It had to be a revenue-generating thing, or it would cease to exist.
NARRATOR: In fact, Facebook was preparing to take its rapidly growing business to the next level by going public.
I’m David Ebersman, Facebook’s CFO. Thank you for taking the time to consider an investment in Facebook.
The social media giant hopes to raise $5 billion.
The pressure heading into the I.P.O., of course, was to prove that Facebook was a great business. Otherwise, we’d have no shareholders.
Facebook– is it worth $100 billion? Should it be valued at that?
NARRATOR: Zuckerberg’s challenge was to show investors and advertisers the profit that could be made from Facebook’s most valuable asset– the personal data it had on its users.
Mark, great as he was at vision and product, he had very little experience in building a big advertising business.
NARRATOR: That would be the job of Zuckerberg’s deputy, Sheryl Sandberg, who’d done the same for Google.
At Facebook we have a broad mission: We want to make the world more open and connected.
The business model we see today was created by Sheryl Sandberg and the team she built at Facebook, many of whom had been with her at Google.
NARRATOR: Publicly, Sandberg and Zuckerberg had been downplaying the extent of the personal data Facebook was collecting, and emphasizing users’ privacy.
We are focused on privacy. We care the most about privacy. Our business model is by far the most privacy-friendly to consumers.
That’s our mission, right? I mean, we have to do that because if people feel like they don’t have control over how they’re sharing things, then we’re failing them.
It really is the point that the only things Facebook knows about you are things you’ve done and told us.
NARRATOR: But internally, Sandberg would soon lead Facebook in a very different direction.
There was a meeting, I think it was in March of 2012, in which, you know, it was everyone who built stuff inside ads, myself among them. And, you know, she basically recited the reality, which is, revenue was flattening. It wasn’t slow, it wasn’t declining, but it wasn’t growing nearly as fast as investors would have guessed. And so she basically said, like, “We have to do something. You people have to do something.” And so there was a big effort to basically pull out all the stops and start experimenting way more aggressively. The reality is that, yeah, Facebook has a lot of personal data, your chat with your girlfriend or boyfriend, your drunk party photos from college, etc. The reality is that none of that is actually valuable to any marketer. They want commercially interesting data. You know, what products did you take off the shelf at Best Buy? What did you buy in your last grocery run? Did it include diapers? Do you have kids? Are you head of household? Right, it’s things like that, things that exist in the outside world, that just do not exist inside Facebook at all.
NARRATOR: Sandberg’s team started developing new ways to collect personal data from users wherever they went on the internet and when they weren’t on the internet at all.
And so, there’s this extraordinary thing that happens that doesn’t get much attention at the time. About four or five months before the I.P.O., the company announces its first relationship with data broker companies, companies that most Americans aren’t at all aware of, that go out and buy up data about each and every one of us– what we buy, where we shop, where we live, what our traffic patterns are, what our families are doing, what our likes are, what magazines we read– data that the consumer doesn’t even know that’s being collected about them because it’s being collected from the rest of their lives by companies they don’t know, and it’s now being shared with Facebook, so that Facebook can target ads back to the user.
What Facebook does is profile you. If you’re on Facebook, it’s collecting everything you do. If you are off Facebook, it’s using tracking pixels to collect what you are browsing. And for its micro-targeting to work, for its business model to work, it has to remain a surveillance machine.
They made a product that was a better tool for advertisers than anything that had ever come before it.
And of course the ad revenue spikes. That change alone, I think, is a sea change in the way the company felt about its future and the direction it was headed.
NARRATOR: Sparapani was so uncomfortable with the direction Facebook was going, he left before the company’s work with data brokers took effect. The extent of Facebook’s data collection was largely a secret until a law student in Austria had a chance encounter with a company lawyer.
I kind of wanted a semester off so I actually went to California, to Santa Clara University in the Silicon Valley. Someone from Facebook was a guest speaker explaining to us basically how they deal with European privacy law. And the general understanding was, you can do whatever you want to do in Europe because they do have data protection laws, but they don’t really enforce them at all. So I sent an email to Facebook saying I want to have a copy of all my data. So I got from Facebook about 1,200 pages, and I read through it. In my personal file, I think the most sensitive information was in my messages. For example, a friend of mine was in the closed unit of the… of a psychological hospital in Vienna. I deleted all these messages, but all of them came back up. And you have messages about, you know, love life and sexuality. And all of that is kept. Facebook tries to give you the impression that you share this only with friends. The reality is, Facebook is always looking. There is a data category called “last location,” where they store where they think you’ve been the last time. If you tag people in pictures, there’s GPS location, so by that they know which person has been at what place at what time. Back on the servers, there is, like, a treasure trove just, like, ten times as big as anything we ever see on the screen.
NARRATOR: As Facebook was ramping up its data collection business ahead of the I.P.O., Schrems filed 22 complaints with the Data Protection Commission in Ireland, where Facebook has its international headquarters.
And they had 20 people at the time over a little supermarket in a small town, it’s called Portarlington. It’s 5,000 people in the middle of nowhere. And they were meant to regulate Google or Facebook or LinkedIn and all of them.
NARRATOR: Schrems claimed Facebook was violating European privacy law in the way it was collecting personal data and not telling users what they were doing with it.
And after we filed these complaints, that was when actually Facebook reached out, basically saying, you know, “Let’s sit down and have a coffee and talk about all of this.” So we actually had a kind of notable meeting that was in 2012 at the airport in Vienna. But the interesting thing is that most of these points, they simply didn’t have an answer. You totally saw that their pants were down. However, at a certain point, I just got a text message from the data protection authority saying they’re not available to speak to me anymore. That was how this procedure basically ended. Facebook knew that the system plays in their favor, so even if you violate the law, the reality is it’s very likely not gonna be enforced.
NARRATOR: Facebook disputed Schrems’s claims, and said it takes European privacy laws seriously. It agreed to make its policies clearer and stop storing some kinds of user data.
So without further ado, Mark Zuckerberg.
NARRATOR: In Silicon Valley, those who covered the tech industry had also been confronting Facebook about how it was handling users’ personal data.
Privacy was my number-one concern back then. So when we were thinking about talking to Mark, the platform was an issue, there were a bunch of privacy violations, and that’s what we wanted to talk to him about. Is there a level of privacy that just has to apply to everyone? Or do you think… I mean, you might have a view of, this is what privacy means to Mark Zuckerberg, so this is what it’s going to mean at Facebook.
Yeah, I mean, people can control this, right, themselves. Simple control always has been one of the important parts of using Facebook.
NARRATOR: Kara Swisher has covered Zuckerberg since the beginning. She interviewed him after the company had changed its default privacy settings.
Do you feel like it’s a backlash? Do you feel like you are violating people’s privacy? And when we started to ask questions, he became increasingly uncomfortable.
You know, it’s…
I think the issue is, you became the head of the biggest social networking company on the planet.
Yeah, no, so… but I… the interesting thing is that, you know, so I started this when I was, you know, started working on this type of stuff when I was 18.
So he started to sweat quite a lot, and then a lot a lot, and then a real lot. So the kind that… this kind of thing where, you know, like “Broadcast News,” where it was dripping down, like… or Tom Cruise in that “Mission: Impossible.” It was just… it was going to his chin and dripping off.
You know, a lot of stuff changed as we’ve gone from building this project in a dorm room…
And it wasn’t stopping and I was noticing that one of the people from Facebook was, like, “Oh, my God,” and was… we were… I was trying to figure out what to do.
Yeah. I mean, a lot of stuff happened along the way. I think, you know, there were real learning points and turning points along the way in terms of… in terms of building things.
He was in such distress, and I know it sounds awful, but I felt like his mother. Like, “Oh, my God, this poor guy is gonna faint.” I thought he was gonna faint, I did. Do you want to take off the hoodie?
Uh, no. (chuckles) Whoa.
Well, different people think different things. He’s told us he had the flu. I felt like… he had had a panic attack, is what happened.
Maybe I should take off the hoodie.
Take off the hoodie.
Go ahead. What the hell?
That is a warm hoodie.
Yeah. No, it’s a thick hoodie. We… it’s, um, it’s a company hoodie. We print our mission on the inside.
What?! Oh, my God, the inside of the hoodie, everybody. Take a look. What is it? “Making the…”
“Making the world more open and connected.”
Oh, my God. It’s like a secret cult.
JACOBY: From that interview and from others, I mean, how would you have characterized Mark’s view of privacy?
Well, you know, I don’t know if he thought about that. It’s kind of interesting because they’re very… they’re very loose on it. They have a viewpoint that this helps you as the user to get more information, and they will deliver up more… That’s the whole ethos of Silicon Valley, by the way. If you only give us everything, we will give you free stuff. There is a trade being made between the user and Facebook. The question is, are they protecting that data?
Thank you, Mark.
NARRATOR: Facebook had been free to set its own privacy standards, because in the U.S. there are no overarching privacy laws that apply to this kind of data collection. But in 2010, authorities at the Federal Trade Commission became concerned.
In most other parts of the world, privacy is a right. In the United States, not exactly.
NARRATOR: At the FTC, David Vladek was investigating whether Facebook had been deceiving its users. What he found was that Facebook had been sharing users’ personal data with so called “third-party developers”– companies that built games and apps for the platform.
And our view was that, you know, it’s fine for Facebook to collect this data, but sharing this data with third parties without consent was a no-no.
But at Facebook, of course, we believe that our users should have complete control of their information.
The heart of our cases against companies like Facebook was deceptive conduct. That is, they did not make it clear to consumers the extent to which their personal data would be shared with third parties.
NARRATOR: The FTC had another worry: They saw the potential for data to be misused because Facebook wasn’t keeping track of what the third parties were doing with it.
They had, in my view, no real control over the third-party app developers that had access to the site. They could have been anyone. There was no due diligence. Anyone, essentially, who could develop a third-party app could get access to the site.
JACOBY: It could have been somebody working for a foreign adversary.
Certainly. It could have been somebody working… yes, for, you know, for the Russian government.
NARRATOR: Facebook settled with the FTC without admitting guilt and, under a consent order, agreed to fix the problems.
JACOBY: Was there an expectation at the time of the consent order that they would staff up to ensure that their users’ data was not leaking out all over the place?
Yes. That was the point of this provision of the consent order that required them to identify risk to personal privacy and to plug those gaps quickly.
NARRATOR: Inside Facebook, however, with the I.P.O. on the horizon, they were also under pressure to keep monetizing all that personal information, not just fix the FTC’s privacy issues.
Nine months into my first job in tech, I ended up in an interesting situation where, because I had been the main person who was working on privacy issues with respect to Facebook platform– which had many, many, many privacy issues, it was a real hornet’s nest. And I ended up in a meeting with a bunch of the most senior executives at the company, and they went around the room, and they basically said, “Well, who’s in charge?” And the answer was me, because no one else really knew anything about it. You’d think that a company of the size and importance of Facebook, you know, would have really focused and had a team of people and, you know, very senior people working on these issues, but it ended up being me.
JACOBY: What did you think about that at the time?
I was horrified. I didn’t think I was qualified.
NARRATOR: Parakilas tried to examine all the ways that the data Facebook was sharing with third-party developers could be misused.
My concerns at that time were that I knew that there were all these malicious actors who would do a wide range of bad things, given the opportunity, given the ability to target people based on this information that Facebook had. So I started thinking through what are the worst-case scenarios of what people could do with this data? And I showed some of the kinds of bad actors that might try to attack, and I shared it out with a number of senior executives. And the response was muted, I would say. I got the sense that this just wasn’t their priority. They weren’t that concerned about the vulnerabilities that the company was creating. They were concerned about revenue growth and user growth.
JACOBY: And that was expressed to you, or that’s something that you just gleaned from the interactions?
From the lack of a response, I gathered that, yeah.
JACOBY: And how senior were the senior executives?
Very senior. Like, among the top five executives in the company.
NARRATOR: Facebook has said it took the FTC order seriously and, despite Parakilas’s account, had large teams of people working to improve users’ privacy. But to Parakilas and others inside Facebook, it was clear the business model continued to drive the mission. In 2012, Parakilas left the company, frustrated.
I think there was a certain arrogance there that led to a lot of bad long-term decision-making. The long-term ramifications of those decisions was not well thought through at all. And it’s got us to where we are right now. (cheers and applause)
Your visionary, your founder, your leader. Mark, please come to the podium. (cheers and applause)
NARRATOR: In May of 2012, the company finally went public.
The world’s largest social network managed to raise more than $18 billion, making it the largest technology I.P.O. in U.S. history.
People literally lined up in Times Square around the NASDAQ board.
We’ll ring this bell and we’ll get back to work.
With founder Mark Zuckerberg ringing the NASDAQ opening bell remotely from Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
NARRATOR: Mark Zuckerberg was now worth an estimated $15 billion. Facebook would go on to acquire Instagram and WhatsApp on its way to becoming one of the most valuable companies in the world.
Going public is an important milestone in our history. But here’s the thing: our mission isn’t to be a public company. Our mission is to make the world more open and connected. (cheering)
NARRATOR: At Facebook, the business model built on getting more and more of users’ personal data was seen as a success. But across the country, researchers working for the Department of Defense were seeing something else.
The concern was that social media could be used for really nefarious purposes. The opportunities for disinformation, for deception, for everything else, are enormous. Bad guys or anybody could use this for any kind of purpose in a way that wasn’t possible before. That’s the concern.
JACOBY: And what did you see as a potential threat of people giving up their data?
That they’re opening themselves up to being targets for manipulation. I can manipulate you to buy something, I can manipulate you to vote for somebody. It’s like putting a target… painting a big target on your front and on your chest and on your back, and saying, “Here I am. Come and manipulate me. You have every… I’ve given you everything you need. Have at it.” That’s a threat.
NARRATOR: Waltzman says Facebook wouldn’t provide data to help his research. But from 2012 to 2015, he and his colleagues published more than 200 academic papers and reports about the threats they were seeing from social media.
What I saw over the years of the program was that the medium enables you to really take disinformation and turn it into a serious weapon.
JACOBY: Was your research revealing a potential threat to national security?
Sure, when you looked at how it actually worked. You see where the opportunities are for manipulation, mass manipulation.
JACOBY: And is there an assumption there that people are easily misled?
Yes, yes, people are easily misled, if you do it the right way. For example, when you see people forming into communities, okay, what’s called filter bubbles. I’m gonna exploit that to craft my message so that it resonates most exactly with that community, and I’ll do that for every single community. It would be pretty easy… it would be pretty easy to set up a fake account, and a large number of fake accounts, embedded it in different communities, and use them to disseminate propaganda.
JACOBY: At an enormous scale?
Yes, well, that’s why it’s a serious weapon, because it’s an enormous scale. It’s the scale that makes it a weapon.
NARRATOR: In fact, Waltzman’s fears were already playing out at a secret propaganda factory in St. Petersburg, Russia, called the Internet Research Agency. Hundreds of Russian operatives were using social media to fight the anti-Russian government in neighboring Ukraine. Vitaly Bespalov says he was one of them.
JACOBY: Can you explain, what is the Internet Research Agency? (speaking Russian)
(translated): It’s a company that creates a fake perception of Russia. They use things like illustrations, pictures– anything that would influence people’s minds. When I worked there, I didn’t hear anyone say, “The government runs us” or “the Kremlin runs us,” but everyone there knew and everyone realized it.
JACOBY: Was the main intention to make the Ukrainian government look bad?
(translated): Yeah, yeah, that’s what it was. This was the intention with Ukraine. Put President Poroshenko in a bad light and the rest of the government, and the military, and so on. (speaking Russian) You come to work and there’s a pile of SIM cards, many, many SIM cards, and an old mobile phone. You need an account to register for various social media sites. You pick any photo of a random person, choose a random last name, and start posting links to news in different groups.
NARRATOR: The Russian propaganda had its intended effect: helping to sow distrust and fear of the Ukrainian government. (chanting)
Pro-Russia demonstrators against Ukraine’s new interim government.
“Russia, Russia,” they chant.
Russian propaganda was massive on social media. It was massive.
There was so many stories that start emerging on Facebook.
“Cruel, cruel Ukrainian nationalists killing people or torturing them because they speak Russian.”
They scared people. “You see, they’re gonna attack, they’re gonna burn your villages. You should worry.”
And then the fake staged news. (speaking Russian)
“Crucified child by Ukrainian soldiers,” which is totally nonsense. (speaking Russian)
It got proven that those people were actually hired actors.
But it spreads on Facebook.
So Facebook was weaponized.
NARRATOR: Just as in the Arab Spring, Facebook was being used to inflame divisions. But now by groups working on behalf of a foreign power, using Facebook’s tools built to help advertisers boost their content.
By that time in Facebook, you could pay money to promote these stories. So your stories emerge on the top lines. And suddenly you start to believe in this, and you immediately get immediate response. You can test all kind of nonsenses and understand to which nonsense people do not believe… (man speaking Ukrainian) And to which nonsenses people start believing. (chanting in Russian) Which will influence the behavior of person receptive to propaganda, and then provoking that person on certain action.
They decided to undermine Ukraine from the inside… (gunfire echoing, shouting) …rather than from outside.
I mean, basically, think about this– Russia hacked us.
NARRATOR: Dmytro Shymkiv, a top adviser to Ukraine’s president, met with Facebook representatives and says he asked them to intervene.
The response that Facebook gave us is, “Sorry, we are open platform, anybody can do anything without… within our policy, which is written on the website.” And when I said, “But this is fake accounts.” (laughs): “You could verify that.” “Well, we’ll think about this but, you know, we, we have a freedom of speech and we are very pro-democracy platform. Everybody can say anything.”
JACOBY: In the meeting, do you think you made it explicitly clear that Russia was using Facebook to meddle in Ukraine politics?
I was explicitly saying that there are trolls factory, that there are posts and news that are fake, that are lying, and they are promoted on your platform by, very often, fake accounts. Have a look. At least sending somebody to investigate.
JACOBY: And no one… sorry.
JACOBY: No one was sent?
No, no. For them, at that time, it was not an issue.
NARRATOR: Facebook told “Frontline” that Shymkiv didn’t raise the issue of misinformation in their meeting, and that their conversations had nothing to do with what would happen in the United States two years later.
JACOBY: It was known to Facebook in 2014 there was potential for Russian disinformation campaigns on Facebook.
Yes. And there were disinformation campaigns from a number of different countries on Facebook. You know, disinformation campaigns were a regular facet of Facebookery abroad. And… I mean, yeah, technically that should have led to a learning experience. I just don’t know.
JACOBY: There was plenty that was known about the potential downsides of social media and Facebook– you know, potential for disinformation, potential for bad actors and abuse. Were these things that you just weren’t paying attention to, or were these things that were kind of conscious choices to kind of say, “All right, we’re gonna kind of abdicate responsibility from those things and just keep growing”?
I definitely think we’ve been paying attention to the things that we know. And one of the biggest challenges here is that this is really an evolving set of threats and risks. We had a big effort around scams. We had a big effort around bullying and harassment. We had a big effort around nudity and porn on Facebook. It’s always ongoing. And so some of these threats and problems are new, and I think we’re grappling with that as a company with other companies in this space, with governments, with other organizations, and so I, I wouldn’t say that everything is new, it’s just different problems.
Facebook is the ultimate growth stock…
NARRATOR: At Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, they would stick to the mission and the business model, despite a gathering storm.
…get their election news and decision-making material from Facebook.
The most extraordinary election…
NARRATOR: By 2016, Russia was continuing to use social media as a weapon.
…Hillary Clinton cannot seem to extinguish…
NARRATOR: And division and polarization were running through the presidential campaign.
Just use it on lying, crooked Hillary…
The race for the White House was shaken up again on Super Tuesday…
NARRATOR: Mark Zuckerberg saw threats to his vision of an open and connected world.
As I look around, I’m starting to see people and nations turning inward, against this idea of a connected world and a global community. I hear fearful voices calling for building walls and distancing people they label as others. For blocking free expression, for slowing immigration, reducing trade and in some cases around the world, even cutting access to the internet.
NARRATOR: But he continued to view his invention not as part of the problem, but as the solution.
And that’s why I think the work that we’re all doing together is more important now than it’s ever been before. (cheers and applause)
NARRATOR: Tomorrow night, “Frontline’s” investigation continues.
There is absolutely no company who has had so much influence on the information that Americans consume.
NARRATOR: He’s the man who connected the world. But at what cost?
Polarization was the key to the model.
NARRATOR: The global threat…
This is an information ecosystem that just turns democracy upside down.
NARRATOR: The 2016 election…
…Facebook getting over a billion political campaign posts.
NARRATOR: And the company denials…
The idea that fake news on Facebook influenced the election in any way I think is a pretty crazy idea.
…Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify…
…and I’m responsible for what happens here.
NARRATOR: Is Facebook ready for the mid-term elections?
There are a lot of questions heading into this midterm…
…the midterm elections…
I still have questions if we’re going to make sure that in 2018 and 2020 this doesn’t happen again.
NARRATOR: Part two of “The Facebook Dilemma.” Tomorrow night on “Frontline.”
Go to pbs.org/frontline to read more about more about Facebook from our partner, Washington Post reporter Dana Priest.
For Facebook the dilemma is can they solve these serious problems without completely revamping their business model.
Then watch a video explainer about what Facebook knows about you and how.
…even though you never signed up for it, Facebook now has data about you and stores it as a shadow profile…
Connect to the “Frontline” community at pbs.org/frontline.
For more on this and other “Frontline” programs, visit our website at pbs.org/frontline.
To order Frontline’s “The Facebook Dilemma” on DVD, visit ShopPBS, or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS. This program is also available on Amazon Prime video.
NARRATOR: Tonight━ Frontline’s investigation into Facebook continues.
There is absolutely no company who has had so much influence on the information that Americans consume.
NARRATOR: He’s the man who connected the world. But at what cost?
Polarization was the key to the model.
NARRATOR: The global threat…
This is an information ecosystem that just turns democracy upside down.
NARRATOR: The 2016 Election…
…Facebook getting over a billion political campaign posts.
NARRATOR: And the company denials…
The idea that fake news on Facebook influenced the election in any way I think is a pretty crazy idea.
…Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify…
…and I’m responsible for what happens here.
NARRATOR: Is Facebook ready for the mid-term elections?
There are a lot of questions heading into this midterm…
…the midterm elections…
I still have questions if we’re going to make sure that in 2018 and 2020 this doesn’t happen again.
NARRATOR: Tonight on Frontline, Part two of “The Facebook Dilemma”.
I accept your nomination for president of the United States.
I humbly accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.
Hey, everyone. We are live from my backyard, where I am smoking a brisket and some ribs and getting ready for the presidential debate tonight.
Some of the questions for tonight’s debate will be formed by conversations happening on Facebook.
39% of people get their election news and decision-making material from Facebook.
Facebook getting over a billion political campaign posts.
I love this, all the comments that are coming in. It’s, like, I’m sitting here, smoking these meats and, um, and just hanging out with 85,000 people who are hanging out with me in my backyard.
Make no mistake, everything you care about, everything I care about and I’ve worked for, is at stake.
I will beat Hillary Clinton, Crooked Hillary, I will beat her so badly, so badly.
I hope that all of you get out and vote. This is going to be an important one.
Tonight’s broadcast will also include Facebook, which has become a gathering place for political conversation. (cheers and applause)
Thank you. Thank you.
Facebook is really the new town hall.
Better conversations happen on Facebook.
Poke for a vote.
Poke for a vote.
Facebook is the ultimate growth stock.
Facebook is utterly dominating this new, mobile, digital economy.
Have you been measuring political conversation on Facebook, things like the most likes, interactions, shares.
Hillary Clinton has evaded justice.
I thank you for giving me the opportunity to, in my view, clarify.
2016 is the social election.
Facebook getting over a billion political campaign posts.
NARRATOR: 2016 began as banner year for Mark Zuckerberg. His company had become one of the most popular and profitable in the world, despite an emerging dilemma that, as it was connecting billions, it was inflaming divisions.
People really forming these tribal identities on Facebook, where you will see people getting into big fights.
NARRATOR: We’ve been investigating warning signs that existed as Facebook grew, and interviewing those inside the company who were there at the time.
We saw a lot of our numbers growing like crazy, as did the rest of the media and the news world in particular. And so, as a product designer, when you see your products being used more, you’re happy.
It’s where we’re seeing conversation happening about the election, the candidates, the issues.
NARRATOR: Amid all this political activity on Facebook, no one used the platform more successfully than Donald Trump’s digital media director, Brad Parscale.
I asked Facebook, “I want to spend $100 million on your platform– send me a manual.” They say, “We don’t have a manual.” I say, “Well, send me a human manual, then.”
JAMES JACOBY: And what does the manual provide?
You have a manual for your car. If you didn’t have that for your car, there might be things you would never learn how to use in your car, right? I spent $100 million on a platform, the most in history, it made sense for them to be there to help us make sure how we spent it right and did it right.
With custom audiences, you can get your ads to people you already know who are on Facebook.
NARRATOR: What Facebook’s representatives showed them was how to harness its powerful advertising tools to find and target new and receptive audiences.
Now I’ll target my ad to friends of people who like my page.
What I recognized was the simple process of marketing. I needed to find the right people and the right places to show them the right message. Micro-targeting allows you to do is say, “Well, these are the people that are most likely to show up to vote, and these are the right audiences we need to show up.” The numbers were showing in the consumer side that people were spending more and more hours of their day consuming Facebook content, so if you have any best place to show your content, it would be there. It was a place where their eyes were. That’s where they were reading their local newspaper and doing things. And so we could get our message injected inside that stream. And that was a stream which was controlling the eyeballs of most places that we needed to win.
NARRATOR: It wasn’t just politics. By this time, Facebook was also dominating the news business.
62% of Americans say they get their news from social media sites like Facebook.
More than a dozen developers have worked with us to build social news apps, all with the goal of helping you discover and read more news.
NARRATOR: Facebook’s massive audience enticed media organizations to publish straight into the company’s News Feed– making it one of the most important distributors of news in the world.
I’m personally really excited about this. I think that it has the potential to not only rethink the way that we all read news, but to rethink a lot of the way that the whole news industry works.
NARRATOR: But unlike traditional media companies, Facebook did not see itself as responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the news and information on its site.
The responsibilities that they should have taken on are what used to be called editing. And editors had certain responsibilities for what was going to show up on the first page versus the last page, the relative importance of things that don’t relate purely to money and don’t relate purely to popularity. So they took over the role of editing without ever taking on the responsibilities of editing.
NARRATOR: Instead, Facebook’s editor was its algorithm, designed to feed users whatever was most engaging to them. Inside Facebook, they didn’t see that as a problem.
JACOBY: Was there a realization inside Facebook as to what the responsibilities would be of becoming the main distributor of news?
I don’t think there was a lot of thinking about that, that idea. I don’t think there was any, any thought that news content in particular had, had more value or had more need for protection than any of the other pieces of content on Facebook.
NARRATOR: Andrew Anker was in charge of Facebook’s news products team, and is one of eight former Facebook insiders who agreed to talk on camera about their experiences.
I was surprised by a lot of things when I joined Facebook. And as someone who grew up in the media world, I expected there to be more of a sense of how people interact with media and how important media can be to certain people’s information diet. (applause)
We have a video from Davida from Napoli.
No. (laughter) You know, we’re a technology company. We’re not a media company.
The fact that so many big, well-known news brands really pushed into Facebook pretty aggressively legitimized it as a place to get, kind of, information. And I think that also strangely created the opportunity for people who weren’t legitimate, as well. Because if the legitimate players are there, and you’re not legitimate, all you need to do is set up a website and then share links to it, and your stuff on Facebook is going to look similar enough that you’ve just gotten a huge leg up.
Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt person…
NARRATOR: But as the 2016 campaign heated up…
And I’ll tell you, some of what I heard coming from my opponent…
NARRATOR: …reporter Craig Silverman was sounding alarms that Facebook’s News Feed was spreading misinformation– what he called “fake news.”
Fake news just seemed like the right term to use. And I was trying to get people to pay attention. I was trying to get journalists to pay attention. I was trying to also get Facebook and other companies like Twitter to pay attention to this, as well.
NARRATOR: Silverman traced misinformation back to some unusual places.
We started to see this small cluster of websites being run, the vast majority, from one town in Macedonia.
How popular is it?
About 200 people, maybe.
Are making fake news websites?
Most of them didn’t really care about who won the election. They weren’t in this for politics. If you put ads on these completely fake websites, and you’ve got a lot of traffic from Facebook, that was a good way to make money.
There are some people who made, like, 200K or something like that.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I remember one guy, I think he was 15 or 16 years old, telling me, you know, “Americans want to read about Trump, so I’m writing Trump stuff.” Trump earned them money. We saw Macedonia’s publishing Hillary Clinton being indicted, the pope endorsing Trump, Hillary Clinton selling weapons to ISIS, getting close to or above a million shares, likes, comments. That’s an insane amount of engagement. It’s more, for example, than when “The New York Times” had a scoop about Donald Trump’s tax returns. How is it that a kid in Macedonia can get an article that gets more engagement than a scoop from “The New York Times” on Facebook?
JACOBY: A headline during the campaign was “Pope Endorses Trump,” which was not true, but it went viral on Facebook. Was it known within Facebook that that had gone viral?
Um, I’m sure it was. I didn’t necessarily know how viral it had gotten, and I certainly didn’t believe that anybody believed it.
JACOBY: But would that have been a red flag inside the company, that something that’s patently false was being propagated to millions of people on the platform?
I think if you asked the question that way, it would have been. But I think when you asked, then the next question, which is the harder and the more important question, was, which is, “So what do you do about it?”, you then very quickly get into issues of not only free speech, but to what degree is it anybody’s responsibility, as a technology platform or as a distributor, to start to decide when you’ve gone over the line between something that is clearly false from something that may or may not be perceived by everybody to be clearly false and potentially can do damage?
JACOBY: Over the course of the 2016 election, there was a lot of news about misinformation. I mean, there was, famously, “The Pope Endorses Trump.” Do you remember that?
Absolutely. I, I wasn’t working on these issues at the time, but, but absolutely I, I do remember it.
NARRATOR: Tessa Lyons was chief of staff to Facebook’s number two, Sheryl Sandberg, and is now in charge of fighting misinformation. She is one of five current officials Facebook put forward to answer questions.
JACOBY: Was there any kind of sense of, like, “Oh, my goodness, Facebook is getting polluted with misinformation– someone should do something about this”?
There certainly was, and there were people who were thinking about it. What I don’t think there was a real awareness of, internally or externally, was the scope of the problem and the, the right course of action.
JACOBY: How could it be surprising that, if you’re becoming the world’s information source, that there may be a problem with misinformation?
There was certainly awareness that there could be problems related to news or quality of news. And I think we all recognized afterwards that of all of the threats that we were considering, we focused a lot on threats that weren’t misinformation and underinvested in this one.
NARRATOR: But there was another problem that was going unattended on Facebook beyond misinformation.
One of the big factors that emerged in the election was what started to be called hyper-partisan Facebook pages. These were Facebook pages that kind of lived and died by really ginning up that partisanship– “We’re right, they’re wrong.” But not even just that, it was also, “They’re terrible people, and we’re the best.” And the Facebook pages were getting tremendous engagement.
“A million migrants are coming over the wall, and they’re going to, like, rape your children,” you know? That stuff is doing well.
And the stuff that was true would get far less shares.
The development of these hyper-partisan sites I think turned the informational commons into this trash fire. And there’s some kind of parable in that for the broader effects of Facebook. That the very things that divide us most cause the most engagement.
Which means they go to the top of the News Feed, which means the most people see them.
NARRATOR: This worried an early Facebook investor who was once close to Zuckerberg.
I am an analyst by training and profession. And so, my job is to watch and interpret. At this point, I have a series of different examples that suggest to me that there is something wrong, systemically, with the Facebook algorithms and business model. In effect, polarization was the key to the model. This idea of appealing to people’s lower-level emotions, things like fear and anger, to create greater engagement, and in the context of Facebook, more time on site, more sharing, and, therefore, more advertising value. I found that incredibly disturbing.
NARRATOR: Ten days before the election, McNamee wrote Zuckerberg and Sandberg about his concerns.
I mean, what I was really trying to do was to help Mark and Sheryl get this thing right. And their responses were more or less what I expected, which is to say that what I had seen were isolated problems, and that they had addressed each and every one of them. I thought Facebook could stand up and say, “We’re going to reassess our priorities. We’re going to reassess the metrics on which we run the company to try to take into account the fact that our impact is so much greater now than it used to be. And that as Facebook, as a company with, you know, billions of users, we have influence on how the whole social fabric works that no one’s had before.” (cheers and applause)
I’ve just received a call from Secretary Clinton.
Clinton has called Trump to concede the election.
The Clinton campaign is… Really a somber mood here.
The crowd here at Trump campaign headquarters…
NARRATOR: Trump’s targeted ads on Facebook paid off…
Did things like Facebook help one of the nastiest elections ever?
NARRATOR: …leading to complaints that Facebook helped tilt the election…
Facebook elected Donald Trump, that’s basically…
NARRATOR: …which the Trump campaign dismissed as anger over the results.
There has been mounting criticism of Facebook…
No one ever complained about Facebook for a single day until Donald Trump was president. The only reason anyone’s upset about this is that Donald Trump is president and used a system that was all built by liberals. When I got on TV and told everybody after my interview of what we did at Facebook, it exploded. The funny thing is, the Obama campaign used it, then went on TV and newspapers, and they put it on the front of magazine, and the left and the media called them geniuses for doing that.
Accusations that phony news stories helped Donald Trump win the presidency…
NARRATOR: Trump’s victory put Facebook on the spot.
Facebook even promoted fake news into its trending…
NARRATOR: And two days after the election, at a tech conference in northern California, Zuckerberg spoke publicly about it for the first time.
Well, you know, one of the things post-election, you’ve been getting a lot of pushback from people who feel that you didn’t filter out enough fake stories, right?
You know, I’ve seen some of the stories that you’re talking about, around this election. There is a certain profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason why someone could have voted the way they did is because they saw some fake news. You know, personally, I think the, the idea that, you know, fake news on Facebook, of which, you know, it’s, it’s a very small amount of, of, of the content, influenced the election in any way, I think, is a pretty crazy idea, right?
If I had been sitting there in an interview, I would have said, “You’re lying.” When he said, “We had no impact on the election,” that… I remember reading that and being furious. I was, like, “Are you kidding me?” Like, “Stop it.” Like, you cannot say that and not be lying. Of course they had an impact, it’s obvious. They were the most important distribution, news distribution. There are so many statistics about that. Like, I don’t know how you could possibly make that claim in public and with such a cavalier attitude. That infuriated me. And I texted everybody there, saying, “You’re kidding me.”
JACOBY: Is he not recognizing the importance of his platform in our democracy at that point in time?
Yes, I think he didn’t understand what he had built, or didn’t care to understand or wasn’t paying attention, and doesn’t… they really do want to pretend, as they’re getting on their private planes, as they’re getting… going to their beautiful homes, as they’re collecting billions of dollars, they never want to acknowledge their power. They’re powerful, and they have… they don’t.
Thank you so much for being here.
Thank you, guys.
I think it was very easy for all of us sitting in Menlo Park to not necessarily understand how valuable Facebook had become. I don’t think any of us, Mark included, appreciated how much of an effect we might have had. And I don’t even know today, two years later, or almost two years later, that we really understand how much of a true effect we had. But I think more importantly, we all didn’t have the information to be saying things like that at the time. My guess is, is that Mark now realizes that there was a lot more to the story than, than he or any of us could have imagined at that point.
NARRATOR: Barely two months later, in Washington, an even more serious situation was developing. Intelligence agencies were investigating Russian interference in the election, and whether social media had played a role.
Classical propaganda, disinformation, fake news.
Does that continue?
Yes. In my view, we only scratched the surface. I say “we,” those that assembled the intelligence community assessment that we published on the 6th of January 2017, meaning NSA, C.I.A., FBI, and my office. But I will tell you, frankly, that I didn’t appreciate the full magnitude of it until well after.
NARRATOR: Amid growing scrutiny…
NARRATOR: …Zuckerberg set out on a cross-country trip he publicized by streaming on Facebook.
So I’ve been going around to different states for my personal challenge for the year to see how different communities are working across the country.
NARRATOR: But while he was on the road, the news was getting worse.
The U.S. intelligence community officially is blaming Russian President…
…Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign aimed at the presidential election.
NARRATOR: Zuckerberg’s chief of security, Alex Stamos, had been asked to see what he could find on Facebook’s servers.
We kicked off a big look into the fake news phenomenon, specifically what component of that might have a Russian part in its origin.
NARRATOR: They traced disinformation to what appeared to be Russian government-linked sources.
JACOBY: So, what was it like bringing that news to others in the company, and up to Mark and Sheryl, for instance?
You know, we had a big responsibility in the security team to educate the right people about what had happened without being kind of overly dramatic. It’s kind of hard as a security person to balance that, right? Like, everything seems like an emergency to you. But in this case it really was, right? This really was a situation in which we saw the tip of this iceberg, and we knew there was some kind of iceberg beneath it.
NARRATOR: Stamos expanded his investigation to look at how the Russian operation may have also used Facebook’s targeted advertising system.
So what we did is, we then decided we’re going to look at all advertising and see if we can find any strange patterns that might link them to Russian activity. So we enlisted huge parts of the company. We kind of dragooned everybody into one big, unified team. So you have people in a war room working 70-, 80-hour weeks, billions of dollars of ads, hundreds of millions of pieces of content, and by kind of a painstaking process of going through thousands and thousands of false positives, eventually found this large cluster that we were able to link to the Internet Research Agency of St. Petersburg.
NARRATOR: It was one of the same groups that had been using Facebook to spread disinformation in Ukraine three years earlier. This time, using fake accounts, Russian operatives had paid around $100,000 to run ads that promoted political messages and enticed people to join fake Facebook groups.
What the Internet Research Agency wants to do is, they want to create the appearance of legitimate social movements. So they would create, for example, a pro-immigration group and an anti-immigration group. And both of those groups would be almost caricatures of what those two sides think of each other. And their goal of running ads were to find populations of people who are open to those kinds of messages, to get them into those groups, and then to deliver content on a regular basis to drive them apart. Really what the Russians are trying to do is to find these fault lines in U.S. society and amplify them, and to make Americans not trust each other.
NARRATOR: In September 2017, nearly a year after the election, Zuckerberg announced on Facebook what the company had found.
We are actively working with the U.S. government on its ongoing investigations into Russian interference. We’ve been investigating this for many months now, and for a while, we had found no evidence of fake accounts linked to Russian… linked to Russia running ads. When we recently uncovered this activity, we provided that information to the special counsel. We also briefed Congress. And this morning, I directed our team to provide the ads we’ve found to Congress, as well.
We do know that Facebook-related posts touched about 150 million Americans, that were posts that originated either through Russian fake accounts or through paid advertising from the Russians. But the paid advertising was really a relatively small piece of the overall problem. A much bigger problem was the ability for someone to say they were James in Washington, DC, but it was actually Boris in St. Petersburg creating a fake persona that would generate followers, and then they would seed it with the fake information and the false news and the political content. One account was set up to try to rally the Muslim community in, in Texas. Another was an attempt to kind of rally the right wing in Texas. They created an event.
Stop the hate! Stop the fear!
Protest, with both sides protesting against each other.
At a mosque in Houston, in 2016.
This is America, we have the right to speak out.
(yelling) But for the good work of the Houston police, you could have had the kind of horrible activity take place then and there that I saw unfortunately take place in Charlottesville in my state last year. So the real human consequences of some of these… of some of this abuse, we’ve been very lucky that it hasn’t actually cost people’s lives.
NARRATOR: Facebook also found that the Russians had used the site to orchestrate a pro-Trump rally outside of a Cheesecake Factory in Florida and to promote an anti-Trump protest in New York City just after the election.
Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald has got to go…
We are under threat, and I need to defend the country that I love.
We are right in the middle of the protest.
NARRATOR: The details of Facebook’s internal investigation set off alarm bells in Washington.
We’re such a ripe target for that sort of thing, and the Russians know that. So the Russians exploited that divisiveness, that polarization, because they had, they had messages for everybody. You know, Black Lives Matter, white supremacists, gun control advocates, gun control opponents, it didn’t matter– they had messages for everybody.
JACOBY: Did you think that was a pretty sophisticated campaign?
It was. And I believe the Russians did a lot to get people out to vote that wouldn’t have and helped the appeal for… of Donald Trump.
JACOBY: And the role that social media played in that was what?
It was huge.
I mean, it’s really quite both ingenious and evil to, to attack a democratic society in that manner.
JACOBY: But there were warning signs along the way in the trajectory of the company.
The company’s been dealing with the negative side effects of its product for years, right? When you have two billion people on a communication platform, there’s a infinite number of potentially bad things that could happen. The tough part is trying to decide where you’re going to put your focus.
NARRATOR: But by 2017, Facebook was being accused of not focusing on other serious issues in developing, fragile democracies where the company had expanded its business. Countries like the Philippines, where almost all internet users are on Facebook, and problems had been mounting.
In a year, I probably met with more than 50 different officials, high-ranking officials, including Mark Zuckerberg. I wanted them to know what we were seeing, I wanted them to tell me what they thought about it, and I wanted them to fix it.
NARRATOR: Maria Ressa, who runs a prominent news website, says she had been warning Facebook since 2016 that President Rodrigo Duterte was using a network of paid followers and fake accounts to spread lies about his policies and attack his critics.
The U.N.’s branded his war a crime under international law.
NARRATOR: Especially critics of his brutal war on drugs, which has taken an estimated 12,000 lives.
Human Rights Watch has called government-sanctioned butchery.
President Duterte was targeting anyone who questioned the drug war, anyone who questioned the alleged extrajudicial killings. Anyone on Facebook who questioned that would get brutally bashed. We’re protected by the Constitution, we’ve been stripped of those protections online.
NARRATOR: Ressa herself would eventually come under attack.
There were attacks on the way I look, the way I sounded, that I should be raped, that I should be killed. We gave it a name: patriotic trolling. Online, state-sponsored hate that is meant to silence, meant to intimidate. So this is an information ecosystem that just turns democracy upside-down.
JACOBY: And where lies are prevalent.
Where lies are truth.
NARRATOR: She traced the disinformation to a network of 26 fake accounts and reported it to Facebook at a meeting in Singapore in August of 2016.
JACOBY: What were you asking them to do?
Exactly what every news group does, which is, take control and be responsible for what you create.
JACOBY: Were you given an explanation as to why they weren’t acting?
No. No. I think Facebook walked into the Philippines, and they were focused on growth. What they didn’t realize is that countries like the Philippines…
…countries where institutions are weak, where corruption is rampant, these countries don’t have the safeguards. And what happens when you bring everyone onto a platform and do not exercise any kind of rules, right? If you don’t implement those rules beforehand, you’re going to create chaos.
JACOBY: There’s a problem in the Philippines, we’ve heard about from people on the ground there, that Facebook has been to some degree weaponized by the Duterte regime there. What are you doing to, to stem this problem in the Philippines?
One thing we’re trying to do, any time that we think there might be a connection between violence on the ground and online speech, the first thing for us to do is actually understand the landscape.
NARRATOR: Monika Bickert is Facebook’s head of global policy and worked for the Justice Department in Southeast Asia.
There’s a fundamental question, which is, “What should our role be, and as we are identifying misinformation, should we be telling people what we’re finding, should we be removing that content, should we be down-ranking that content?” And we now have a team that is focused on how to deal with exactly that sort of situation.
NARRATOR: In April, Facebook created a news verification program and hired Ressa’s organization as one of its fact-checkers, though she says the problems are ongoing. The company ultimately took down the accounts Ressa identified– just last week, removed dozens more.
I think what is happening is that this company is way in over its head in terms of its responsibilities. It’s way in over its head in terms of what power it holds. The idea isn’t that it’s just like you magically add Facebook and horrible things happen, but you have Facebook as this effective gasoline to simmering fires.
NARRATOR: Elsewhere in the region….
Buddhists are inciting hatred and violence against Muslims through social media…
NARRATOR: …Facebook was also being used to fan ethnic tensions with even more dire consequences.
Violence between Buddhists and Muslims is continuing.
Misinformation, disinformation, rumors, extremist propaganda, all kinds of bad content.
NARRATOR: For several years, David Madden, a tech entrepreneur living in Myanmar, as well as journalists and activists, had been warning Facebook that the Muslim minority there was being targeted with hate speech.
(speaking local language)
You would see the use of memes, of images, things that were degrading and dehumanizing, targeting the Muslim community.
(speaking local language)
NARRATOR: The warning signs had been present as far back as 2014, when a fake news story spread on Facebook.
Reports, later proved to be false, that some Muslim men had raped a Buddhist woman, were shared on Facebook.
An angry mob of about 400 surrounded the Sun Teashop, shouting and throwing bricks and stones.
NARRATOR: Two people died in the incident.
One Buddhist and one Muslim were killed in riots today.
I was really concerned that the seriousness of this was not understood. And so I made a presentation at Facebook headquarters in May of 2015. I was pretty explicit about the state of the problem. I drew the analogy with what had happened in Rwanda, where radios had played a really key role in the execution of its genocide. And so I said, “Facebook runs the risk of being in Myanmar what radios were in Rwanda.” That this platform could be used to foment hate and to incite violence.
JACOBY: What was the reaction to that at Facebook?
I got an email shortly after that meeting to say that what had been discussed at that meeting had been shared internally and apparently taken very seriously.
NARRATOR: The violence intensified.
Massive waves of violence that displaced over 150,000 people.
NARRATOR: And in early 2017, Madden and other local activists had another meeting with Facebook.
The objective of this meeting was, was really to be crystal-clear about just how bad the problem was, and that the processes that they had in place to try to identify and pull down problematic content, they just weren’t working. And we were deeply concerned that something even worse was going to happen imminently. It was a sobering meeting. I think… I think the main response from Facebook was, “We’ll need to go away and dig into this and come back with something substantive.” The thing was, it never came.
And how do you know that?
We can look at the evidencet? on the ground.
What we’ve seen here tells us a story of ethnic cleansing, of driving Muslims out of Myanmar.
NARRATOR: The United Nations would call the violence in Myanmar a genocide, and found social media, and Facebook in particular, had played a significant role.
The ultra-nationalist Buddhists have their own Facebooks and really inciting a lot of violence and hatred against ethnic minorities. Facebook has now turned into a beast than what it was originally intended to be used.
JACOBY: I’m curious what it’s like when the U.N. comes out with a report that says that Facebook played a significant role in a genocide. running content policy at Facebook?
Well, this would be important to me even if I didn’t work at Facebook, given my background. My background is as a federal prosecutor, and I worked specifically in Asia and specifically on violent crimes against people in Asia. So something like that really hits home to me.
JACOBY: Facebook was warned as early as 2015 about the potential for a really dangerous situation in Myanmar. What went wrong there? Why was it so slow?
We met with civil society organizations in Myanmar far before 2015. This is an area where we’ve been focused. I think what we’ve learned over time is, it’s important for us to build the right technical tools that can help us find some of this content and also work with organizations on the ground in a real-time fashion. We are in the process of building those relationships around the world on a much deeper level, so that we can stay ahead of any kind of situation like that.
NARRATOR: In the past year, Facebook says it’s taken down problematic accounts in Myanmar, hired more language experts, and improved its policies.
JACOBY: Should there be any liability or any legal accountability for a company like Facebook when something so disastrous goes wrong on your platform?
There’s all sorts of accountability. But probably the group that holds us the most accountable are the people using the service. If it’s not a safe place for them to come and communicate, they are not going to use it.
We are working here in Menlo Park in Palo Alto, California. To the extent that some of these issues and problems manifest in other countries around the world, we didn’t have sufficient information and a pulse on what was happening in Southeast Asia.
NARRATOR: Naomi Gleit is Facebook’s second-longest- serving employee.
And so one change that we’ve made, along with hiring so many more people, is that a lot of these people are based internationally and can give us that insight that we may not get from being here at headquarters.
JACOBY: I’m trying to understand, you know, the choices that are made. Do you regret choices going backward, decisions that were made about not taking into account risks or not measuring risks?
Yeah, I definitely think we regret not having 20,000 people working on safety and security back in the day, yes. So I regret that we were too slow, that it wasn’t our priority.
JACOBY: But were those things even considered at the time? To kind of amp up safety and security, but there was some reason not to or…
Not really. I mean, we had a safety and security team. I think we just thought it was sufficient. I just… it’s not that we were, like, “Well, we could do so much more here,” and decided not to. I think we… we just didn’t… Again, we were just a bit idealistic.
Facebook has created this platform that in many countries, not just Myanmar, has become the dominant information platform, and it has an outsized influence in lots of countries. That comes with a lot of responsibility.
Using social media, rumors of alleged Muslim wrongdoing spread fast.
Many of those countries are wrestling with some pretty big challenges. Tensions between groups within countries, and we have seen this explode into what Mark Zuckerberg would call real-world harm, what others would just call violence or death, in many other markets. We’re seeing it right now in India.
Calloo became a victim of India’s fake news.
We’ve seen examples of this in places like Sri Lanka.
To keep the violence from spreading, Sri Lanka also shut down Facebook…
The Myanmar example should be sounding an alarm at the highest level of the company, that this requires a comprehensive strategy.
NARRATOR: But it would be far from Myanmar, and a very different kind of problem, that would cause an international uproar over Facebook.
Cambridge Analytica and its mining of data on millions of Americans for political purposes…
Cambridge is alleged to have used all this data from tens of millions of Facebook users…
Escándalo Cambridge Analytica, Facebook… (reporters speaking different languages)
NARRATOR: It was a scandal over how Facebook failed to protect users data, exposed by a whistleblower named Christopher Wylie.
Christopher Wylie, he was able to come forward and say I can prove this.
NARRATOR: He said that Facebook knew that a political consulting firm he’d worked for, Cambridge Analytica, had been using the personal data of more than 50 million users to try to influence voters.
At Cambridge Analytica, we are creating the future of political campaigning.
This is a company that specializes and would advertise itself as specializing in rumor campaigns.
Political campaigns have changed.
Seeding the internet with misinformation.
Putting the right message in front of the right person at the right moment.
And that’s the power of data. You can literally figure out who are the people who are most susceptible.
…data about personality, so you know exactly who to target…
NARRATOR: The firm gained access to the data from a third party, without Facebook’s permission.
The overwhelming majority of people who had their data collected did not know. When data leaves Facebook’s servers, there is no way for Facebook to track that data to know how that data is being used or to find out how many copies there are.
NARRATOR: Facebook eventually changed its data sharing policies and ordered Cambridge Analytica to delete the data.
We know that Facebook had known about this…
NARRATOR: After Wylie came forward, they banned the firm from their site, and announced they were ending another controversial practice: working directly with companies known as data brokers. But the uproar was so intense that in April 2018, Mark Zuckerberg was finally called before Congress, in what would become a reckoning, over Facebook’s conduct, it’s business model, and its impact on democracy.
We welcome everyone today’s hearing on Facebook’s social media privacy and the use and abuse of data. I now turn to you, so proceed, sir.
We face a number of important issues around privacy, safety, and democracy. And you will rightfully have some hard questions for me to answer. Facebook is an idealistic and optimistic company. And as Facebook has grown, people everywhere have gotten a powerful new tool for making their voices heard and for building communities and businesses. But it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm, as well. And that goes for fake news, for foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. And it was my mistake. And I’m sorry.
If, like me, you’re following this stuff, you see years and years and years of people begging and pleading with the company, saying, “Please pay attention to this,” at every channel people could find. And basically being ignored. “We hear you, you’re concerned, we apologize, of course we have a responsibility, we’ll do better.” And the public record here is that they are a combination of unable and unwilling to grasp and deal with this complexity.
You may decide, or Facebook may decide, it needs to police a whole bunch of speech, that I think America might be better off not having policed by one company that has a really big and powerful platform.
Senator, I think that this is a really hard question. And I think it’s one of the reasons why we struggle with it.
These are very, very powerful corporations. They do not have any kind of traditional democratic accountability. And while I personally know a lot of people making these decisions, if we set the norms that these companies need to decide what, who does and does not have a voice online, eventually that is going to go to a very dark place.
When companies become big and powerful, there is a instinct to either regulate or break up, right?
I think we’re finding ourselves now in a position where people feel like something should be done. There’s a lot of questions what should be done, but there’s no question that something should be done.
You don’t think you have a monopoly?
It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me.
You know, there’s a lot of problems here, there, but all of these problems get worse when one company has too much power, too much information, over too many people.
NARRATOR: After years of unchecked growth, the talk now is increasingly about how to rein in Facebook. Already, in Europe, there’s a new internet privacy law aimed at companies like Facebook. Inside the company, the people we spoke to insisted that Facebook is still a force for good.
JACOBY: Has there ever been a minute where you’ve questioned the mission? You know, internally? Whether anyone has taken a second to step back and say, “All right, has this blinded us in some way?” Have you had a moment like that?
I still continue to firmly believe in the mission, but in terms of stepping back, in terms of reflecting, absolutely. But that isn’t on the mission. The reflection is really about, how can we do a better job of minimizing bad experiences on Facebook?
JACOBY: Why wasn’t that part of the metric earlier? In terms of, how do you minimize the harm?
You know, it’s possible that we could have done more sooner, and we haven’t been as fast as we needed to be.
NARRATOR: That line was repeated by all the current officials Facebook put forward to answer questions.
We’ve been too slow to act on…
I think we were too slow…
We didn’t see it fast enough.
We were too slow.
Mark has said this, that we have been slow.
One of my greatest regrets in running the company is that we were slow in identifying the Russian information operations in 2016. And we’re going to take a number of measures, from building and deploying new A.I. tools that take down fake news, to growing our security team to more than 20,000 people…
The goal here is to deep-dive on the market nuances there…
NARRATOR: The company says it’s now investing resources and talent to tackle a range of problems, from the spread of hate speech to election interference.
Even if we can’t do fact-checking, if we can do more work around the programmatic aspect of it…
NARRATOR: This is part of the team tackling the spread of misinformation around the world, led by Tessa Lyons.
The elections integrity team has a framework for how they’re thinking about secondary languages in each country. And I feel like from the misinformation side, we’ve mostly prioritized primary languages.
NARRATOR: It’s a problem the company admits it is a long way from solving.
The next thing is about the Arabic fact-checking project. I think the main blocker here is potentially getting a fact-checker that can cover an entire region.
You know, I came into this job asking myself, “How long is it going to take us to solve this?” And the answer is, this isn’t a problem that you solve. It’s a problem that you contain.
Awesome. Next, segue into upcoming launches.
NARRATOR: In advance of next week’s midterms, Facebook has mobilized an election team to monitor false news stories and delete fake accounts that may be trying to influence voters. Nathaniel Gleicher runs the team.
There are going to be actors that are going to try to manipulate that public debate. How do we figure out what are the techniques they’re using and how do we make it much harder?
JACOBY: Is there going to be real-time monitoring on Election Day of what’s going on on Facebook, and how are you going to actually find things that may sow distrust in the election?
Absolutely, we’re going to have a team on Election Day focused on that problem, and one thing that’s useful here is, we’ve already done this in other elections.
JACOBY: And you’re confident you can do that here?
I think that… Yes, I’m confident that we can do this here.
NARRATOR: Gleicher says his team continues to find foreign actors using the platform to spread disinformation.
Iran was revealed to be a new player in worldwide disinformation campaigns, and on top of this…
NARRATOR: And less than two weeks ago, federal prosecutors announced they’d found evidence that Russian operatives had been trying to interfere in next week’s election.
JACOBY: What is the standard that the public should hold Facebook to, in terms of solving some of these seemingly enormous problems?
I think the standard, the responsibility, what I’m focused on, is amplifying good and minimizing the bad. And we need to be transparent about what we’re doing on both sides, and, you know, I think this is an ongoing discussion.
JACOBY: What’s an ongoing discussion?
How we’re doing on minimizing the bad.
JACOBY: But we’re dealing with such consequential issues, right? We’re talking about integrity of our elections, we’re talking about…
JACOBY: …in some cases, playing a role in a genocide. An ongoing conversation means what, exactly, about that? About a standard for success here?
I think, you know, this is the number-one priority for the company. Mark has been out there, Sheryl is out there, you’re talking to me and a bunch of the other leaders. That’s what we mean by having an ongoing conversation. This is something that we need to, as you said, this is serious, this is consequential. We take this extremely… Like, we understand this responsibility, and it’s not going away tomorrow.
JACOBY: Do you think Facebook has earned the trust to be able to say, “Trust us, we’ve got this”?
I’m not going to answer that, I’m sorry. That’s just… I mean, that, everybody can make that decision for themselves.
JACOBY: But what… Do you trust them?
I trust the people who I worked with. I think there are some good people who are working on this. That doesn’t mean I don’t think we should pass laws to back that up.
It has not been a good week for Facebook…
…social media giant…
NARRATOR: For Facebook, the problems have been multiplying.
…massive setback for Facebook, the social media giant…
…a massive cyber attack affecting nearly 50 million Facebook users…
Facebook continues to crack down on fake political ads and news…
NARRATOR: But Mark Zuckerberg’s quest to connect and change the world continues.
Hey, everyone! Hey. Welcome to F8. This has been an intense year. I can’t believe we’re only four months in
After all these scandals, Facebook’s profits just still going up, right? So they don’t really have a huge incentive to change the core problem, which is their business model.
We are announcing a new set of features coming soon…
They’re not going to do it as long as they’re doing so well financially and there’s no regulatory oversight. And consumer backlash doesn’t really work, because I can’t leave Facebook– all my friends and family around the world are there. You might not like the company, you might not like its privacy policies, you might not like the way its algorithm works, you might not like its business model, but what are you going to do?
Now, there’s no guarantee that we get this right. This is hard stuff. We will make mistakes, and they will have consequences, and we will need to fix them.
NARRATOR: As he has since the beginning, he sees Facebook, his invention not as part of the problem, but the solution.
So if you believe, like I do, that giving people a voice is important, that building relationships is important, that creating a sense of community is important, and that doing the hard work of trying to bring the world closer together is important, then I say this: We will keep building. (cheers and applause)
NARRATOR: Next time…
This is just the beginning.
NARRATOR: The White Power Movement goes underground.
What do you think was going on in this house?
They were making bombs. MAN:
NARRATOR: Frontline and ProPublica investigate.
They are actively recruiting military members. Does that surprise you?
Go to pbs.org/frontline to read more about more about Facebook from our partner, Washington Post Reporter Dana Priest.
For Facebook the dilemma is can they solve these serious problems without…
And later this month, as part of Frontline’s Transparency Project…
What I’m focused on is amplifying good and minimizing the bad.
…see more of the interviews in the film in context.
This isn’t a problem that you solve, it’s a problem that you contain.
Connect to the Frontline community at pbs.org/frontline. Captioned by Media Access Group at WGBH access.wgbh.org.
For more on this and other Frontline programs, visit our website at pbs.org/frontline.
To order Frontline’s “The Facebook Dilemma” on DVD visit shop PBS, or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS. This program is also available on Amazon Prime Video. ♪ ♪