These moves reveal what companies are trying to avoid. If you look in and investigate the damage done to your platform and it turns out to be too expensive or too difficult to fix, it is stoking the exact kind of PR storm Facebook is experiencing right now. From the point of view of these companies, the alternative is simpler: if you don’t study it, there is nothing to reveal.
Between Facebook’s internal research and last month’s reports of the company’s failure to share its data with outside social scientists, executives across Silicon Valley at other companies most likely breathe a sigh of relief: they have managed to dodge the pressure of outside researchers to question their own practices.
The most damning lessons from the series have been the revelations about how Facebook has handled content issues in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. While Facebook enforces its community rules globally, these rules cannot adhere to the wide range of cultural norms of Facebook users around the world. Understanding these differences requires more and better people to constantly review and enforce the rules.
Last week, Facebook announced that it has spent more than $ 13 billion on safety and security since 2016 and currently employs 40,000 full-time and part-time workers. For 2020 alone, that puts the costs in this area between $ 5 billion and $ 6 billion, or about a tenth of the company’s overall costs. To put it all in perspective, in the United States there is is about one law enforcement officer for every 500 people. Facebook has 2.8 billion monthly active users worldwide; this only means 1.3 people working in the field of safety and security per 100,000 users.
There is no quick fix for content moderation. The only way to do it better is to hire more people to do the work of “safety and security,” a term that encompasses all who directly and indirectly write, review, and enforce Facebook’s community standards. According to Facebook’s SEC documents, the average revenue per user in the United States and Canada in the last quarter of 2020 was $ 53.56. Europe, its second-largest market, was only a fraction of that amount at $ 16.87, with Asia-Pacific users at just $ 4.05. “Rest of the world” was only $ 2.77 per user. These numbers don’t necessarily reflect where Facebook ends up investing in safety and security. But he helps explain a powerful set of incentives that can drive business priorities.
The Facebook Files series is driving change. But it will take more than breathless reporting to ensure that the reform unfolds effectively. It will require laws requiring platform transparency, a new agency specializing in online issues and more science. The denunciation brings us halfway. We have to do the rest.
Dr. Kate Klonick (@klonick) is a lawyer and Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Law at St. John’s University. She is a member of the Yale Law School and Brookings Institution Information Society Project, and is currently writing a book on Facebook and AirBnB.
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