Review: why Facebook can never fix itself

The Facebook engineer was anxious to find out why his date had not responded to his messages. Perhaps there was a simple explanation: perhaps she was sick or on vacation.

Then, at 10 p.m. one night at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, he opened his Facebook profile on the company’s internal systems and began searching for his personal data. Your politics, your lifestyle, your interests, even your location in real time.

The engineer would be fired for his behavior, along with 51 other employees who had inappropriately abused their access to company data, a privilege that was available to everyone who worked at Facebook, regardless of job role or seniority. The vast majority of the 51 were like him: men looking for information about the women they were interested in.

In September 2015, after Alex Stamos, the new chief security officer, brought the issue to the attention of Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive officer ordered a system overhaul to restrict employee access to user data. It was a rare victory for Stamos, one in which he convinced Zuckerberg that Facebook design was the culprit, rather than individual behavior.

so it begins An ugly truth, a new book on Facebook written by veteran New York Times reporters Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang. With Frenkel’s expertise in cybersecurity, Kang’s expertise in technology and regulatory policy, and their wealth of sources, the duo provide a compelling account of the Facebook years spanning the 2016 and 2020 elections.

Stamos would no longer be so lucky. The problems that stemmed from Facebook’s business model would only escalate in the following years, but as Stamos uncovered more egregious problems, including Russian interference in the American elections, he was ousted for making Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg face truths. drawbacks. Once he left, the leadership continued to refuse to address a whole host of deeply disturbing issues, including the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the Myanmar genocide, and rampant misinformation by accomplices.

The authors, Cecilia Kang and Sheera Frenkel


Frenkel and Kang argue that Facebook’s problems today are not the product of a company that lost its way. Instead, they are part of his own design, built on Zuckerberg’s narrow worldview, the sloppy privacy culture he cultivated, and the staggering ambitions he pursued with Sandberg.

When the company was still small, perhaps such a lack of foresight and imagination could be excused. But since then, the decisions by Zuckerberg and Sandberg have shown that growth and revenue outperform everything else.

In a chapter titled “Company on Country,” for example, the authors recounted how the leadership tried to bury the extent of Russian electoral interference on the platform by the American intelligence community, Congress, and the American public. They censored multiple attempts by Facebook’s security team to publish details of what they had found and selected the data to downplay the severity and partisan nature of the problem. When Stamos proposed a redesign of the company’s organization to prevent a recurrence of the problem, other leaders dismissed the idea as “alarmist” and focused their resources on controlling the public narrative and keeping regulators at bay.

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