@georgia_wells So… story #2.

This one, with the awesome@georgia_wells, is about what Instagram knows about its effects on the mental health of teenage users. It’s rough.

wsj.com/articles/faceb…
Here’s reality, as internally accepted by IG: The company “makes body image issues worse in one in three teen girls.”

While the product is absolutely fine – good, really -- for most users, it can be seriously harmful for people who are are vulnerable / in a rough mental spot.
In one Instagram study (sample size not giant) a meaningful percent of US/UK users who reported feeling urges to self-harm within the last month traced that feeling DIRECTLY to the app. “Addictive” features prevent those most at risk from logging off.
IG users are telling the company they’re hurting, in droves -- FB has the superpower of being able to survey 100,000 users by snapping its fingers. IG's qualitative and quantitative research matches here.
Okay – a couple of things before everybody fetches the pitchforks. First, this is not research IG had to do. They heard criticism and wanted to explore it. Not every company would have done so. There needs to be a “right” way to explore this stuff.
Also, these effects were NOT understood at first – Sure, in hindsight IG can foster brutal social competition, but… so does high school? Now add on appropriate skepticism of historical technophobia about corrupting the youth (Bicycles! Rap! Jazz! Paperbacks!).
But IG does consider its findings on “negative social comparison” to be robust. While the company noted the limits of its research to us, social science PhDs don’t just create a ppt deck saying “We make body image issues worse in 1 in 3 teen girls” for giggles.)
IG’s realization puts it in the company of proud American businesses that belatedly realized their products might be harmful (it’s a pretty long list). IG wants to do better, though. – so enter “Project Daisy.”
“People are competing on IG for likes – If we hide likes, that might help!” Academics, legislators and media LOVE this intuitive idea, and so begins a two-year effort (delayed by a shift to working on racial justice-related stuff last year).
Unfortunately, Project Daisy just doesn’t work, with little/no statistical significance in any iteration. It’s also bad for business and not worth imposing on users – all of which @AdamMosseri openly acknowledges when announcing it.
[This next tweet would have been about how messed up it would be if FB had rolled out Daisy, taken a victory lap and hinted that it solved the problem. So we can skip this one, as the company did not do this.]
So where does that leave us? IG talked with us about ongoing work (thank you) and has some new product features coming, which they’ll be previewing a bit today. Sounded a bit like the “nudges” the platform shows people going down eating disorder content.
But while company researchers IG made available say they're optimistic about progress, it's pretty hard to move the needle on this subject. Not all problems are solvable -- at least in ways that everyone likes.

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More from @JeffHorwitz

15 Sep
Story #3, headed up by @keachhagey, is about a change in Facebook’s Newsfeed ranking that made political parties and publishers "rely more on negative and sensationalism for distribution."
wsj.com/articles/faceb…
FB made public conversation angrier.
In early 2018, Mark Zuckerberg announced his personal challenge for the year would be fixing Facebook. One piece: promoting “Meaningful Social Interaction.” Very loosely drawn from @tristanharris’s “time well spent,” it was a societal aspiration that became a metric.
The algorithm change had two components – favoring content from users’ close friends and family, and increasing the boost given to posts likely to get high engagement. FB makes algorithm changes constantly, but this was a big one.
Read 7 tweets
13 Sep
So a note on anonymous non-sources in this story: I've gotten a couple questions about why FB employees in the documents are generally not named. wsj.com/articles/faceb…
This might seem rich coming from me, but I have mixed feelings about publishing FB employee work product. There are legitimate privacy concerns here — the work of people trying to make FB better is sometimes cited without their consent.
People who helped me during this project influenced my thinking here. We’ve left out names of employees unless they are senior or their identities needed context. This may not address all concerns, but the work may be as valuable outside the company as in it.
Read 4 tweets
13 Sep
I’ve been on a Facebook project for months, and it’s nowhere near done. But this is the first story: wsj.com/articles/faceb…

TL:DR: Facebook, which talks a lot about democratizing voice, secretly exempted “VIP” users from its rules in “not publicly defensible” ways.
FB’s system of special protections for VIP users, “XCheck,” gives millions of “VIPs” better treatment than normal people, shielding them from enforcement pending full time employee review, at minimum.
Athletes, celebrities and journalists (like me!) are in the system for a simple reason: Facebook is afraid of angering them with botched moderation calls / letting them see its normal enforcement system.

Upsetting me is probably less scary than pissing off Sean Hannity, though.
Read 9 tweets
5 Mar
India’s government is threatening to jail employees of FB, Twitter and WhatsApp as it pushes for far-reaching powers over content and user data. The companies have pushed back some - but it’s into “give us the data or we arrest these people” territory. wsj.com/articles/india…
The threats hang over the companies as they try to respond to draconian Internet regulations that experts say would break WA’s encryption, require foreign platforms to designate executive-level hostages in case of dispute and provide no obvious means for legal challenge.
The Indian government appears to be pursuing a level of control over the Internet that no other democracy has attempted. Domestically, they’re tying foreign platforms to alleged foreign interference in support of farmer protests — and publicly demanding platform cooperation.
Read 5 tweets
1 Feb
New: FB researchers warned execs late last summer that 70% of the platform’s most active civic Groups were toxic. Facebook quietly began reining Groups in – then scrambled as the measures weren’t enough. wsj.com/articles/faceb…
The situation was really bad. “Financially motivated Albanians” repeatedly building up Groups with more followers than all but a handful of top-tier American newspapes have subscribers, for example. The most successful groups were toxic.
Facebook was more ready to listen than it had been about past earnings on Groups. Disabling recommendation algorithms was a start. But then #StoptheSteal Groups blew up thanks to other growth-friendly product design features. The problem wasn’t just “bad algorithms!”
Read 7 tweets
13 Dec 20
We wrote about a Hindu nationalist militant group called the Bajrang Dal. The group has thousands of physical offices and adherents with a history of killing both Muslims and Christians.

Facebook is understandably a bit scared of them.

wsj.com/articles/faceb…
Local Bajrang Dal leaders have been convicted of the mass killings of Muslim women and children and burning an Australian missionary family alive. They make news annually for assaulting secular Indians on Valentine’s Day. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naroda_Pa…
The company's "dangerous orgs" team considered banning the Bajrang Dal from the platform based on their embrace of violence on and off-platform. But Facebook worried doing so would precipitate physical attacks by the group’s allies on the company’s India operations.
Read 10 tweets

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