Facebook can’t be left to mark its own homework – we need regulation


acebook has endured a torrid few weeks — for good reason.

Whistle blower Frances Haugen leaked a trove of documents that show, among other things, that the tech giant’s own research found Instagram has a negative effect on some teenage girls. Those findings weren’t made public and instead Facebook pushed forward with plans for an under-13s version of its photo sharing app.

Haugen goes before the US Senate this afternoon to answer lawmakers’ questions. Expect fireworks. She has already told CBS news programme 60 Minutes that Facebook chooses profit above public good “over and over again”.

The social media giant is struggling to downplay the story. The company says there were missing facts in the 60 Minuters story and Lena Pietsch at Facebook says: “Teens report having both positive and negative experiences with social media.”

But the bald evidence is damning. Facebook published an annotated version of one leaked slide deck that included the laughable note: “Contrary to the objectives stated in this slide…” Pull the other one.

This is hardly the company’s first offence: Trump, Myanmar, and Cambridge Analytica spring to mind.

Facebook insists it is trying to do the right thing. A business of its size is bound to have weak spots and it is addressing them, but change takes time when you’re that big.

Why then does the company have to be dragged kicking and screaming to admit an issue each time it is found wanting? That’s hardly the behavior of a good actor.

An outage this week added to Facebook’s headaches and highlighted how central its products have become to our everyday life. A company as sprawling and significant as Facebook needs to be held to higher standards. Looming regulation – particularly the UK’s trailblazing Online Safety Bill – is a good start but enforcement and oversight is key. Facebook has shown time and again it can’t be left to mark its own homework.

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