According to internal memos obtained by the Wall Street Journal, in 2018 Facebook tried to make its platform a healthier place. But instead, it just got angrier.
The change in the Facebook algorithm to boost “meaningful social interactions” and squash professionally created content rewarded outrage over civility. What’s more, CEO Mark Zuckerberg resisted any proposed fixes.
Facebook chose to boost posts with more comments and bury legitimate news stories. And because people interact with each other more when they’re arguing, that’s what the algorithm prioritized, creating a battleground where only the most divisive content goes viral. (I suppose there’s a hint there for marketers, if you choose to take it.)
According to the internal documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal, the data scientists at Facebook quickly noticed the problem and warned executives:
“Our approach has had unhealthy side effects on important slices of public content, such as politics and news. This is an increasing liability.”
“Misinformation, toxicity, and violent content are inordinately prevalent among reshares,” wrote the team, concluding that the new algorithm made the angriest voices the loudest on the platform.
This 2018 algorithm change immediately hurt legitimate news publishers, who realized that only their most toxic and divisive content would be seen on the platform.
Jonah Perretti, CEO of Buzzfeed, is quoted as saying the algorithm had, “…an insatiable hunger for gross images, fad/junky science, extremely disturbing news and material that exploited racial divisions.”
Political parties around the world ramped up divisive rhetoric to be seen on Facebook, and soon these arguments spilled into real life. According to Facebook’s internal documents, “Many parties, including those that have shifted to the negative, worry about the long-term effects on democracy.”
But hey, it doesn’t matter who gets hurt as long as Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook shareholders continue to make money from toxic lies and violence, right? [I know, I know… I should say what I’m REALLY thinking. 😉]