'Facebook Papers' explode ahead of platform's earnings report

Washington (AFP) – Facebook was hit Monday by scathing reports from at least a dozen US news outlets based on internal documents, just hours before the company was to release its earnings report.


The social media giant has faced a storm of criticism after former employee Frances Haugen leaked internal studies showing the company knew of potential harm stoked by its sites, prompting US lawmakers' to renew a push for regulation.

Reports Monday blamed CEO Mark Zuckerberg for the platform bending to state censors in Vietnam, noted Facebook had allowed hate speech to flourish internationally due to linguistic shortcomings, and said it knew its algorithm fueled toxic polarization online.

"The Facebook Papers are so damning, so disturbing, so disgusting, and should lead to quick action at the federal level," tweeted Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout, referring the moniker attached to the leak.

News organization like the New York Times, Washington Post and Wired were among those that have now received access to the set of internal Facebook documents that Haugen originally leaked to US authorities and which were the basis of a damning Wall Street Journal series.

Facebook has assailed the reporting as the selective publication of some of its mountain of internal studies aimed at casting the social network used by billions of people in a dark and inaccurate light.

The company was due to release its quarterly earnings on Monday, which have boomed during the pandemic period when much of the world used online tools while sheltering at home against the virus.

Haugen, who testifies on social media before British lawmakers Monday, has repeatedly said in media reports and in comments to US senators that the company puts its continuous growth and thus profits before the well-being and safety of users.

Behind the curtain

Facebook has been hit by major crises previously, but the current view behind the curtain of the insular company has fueled a frenzy of scathing reports and a renewed push from US lawmakers to crack down on social media.

The Washington Post story out on Monday said Zuckerberg had personally signed off on a push from Vietnam's authoritarian government to limit the spread of so-called "anti-state" posts.

A report from Politico called the documents a "treasure trove for Washington's anti-trust fight" against the platform, revealing internal employee chats about Facebook global dominance.

The news comes as Facebook critics pounced last week on a report the leading social network plans to rename itself, arguing it may be seeking to distract from recent scandals and controversy.

The report from website The Verge, which Facebook refused to confirm, said the embattled company was aiming to show its ambition to be more than a social media site.

Facebook has faced previous firestorms of controversy, but that has not translated into substantial new US legislation to regulate social media.

The company has bounced back from other scandals like the one involving Cambridge Analytica, a British consulting firm that used the personal data of millions of Facebook users to target political ads.

In that case, Zuckerberg went to Washington to apologize and the company agreed to a $5 billion settlement with US regulators.