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Facebook designed to be ‘addictive’

In an op-ed published last year, FB co-founder Chris Hughes called for the company to be broken up for sacrificing security and civility for clicks.

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Who me? Engagement is the name of the game for an engaging guy like Mark Zuckerberg. / W. Commons

Former Facebook manager Tim Kendall told the US Congress in a hearing this weekend that the social media giant copied a strategy of big tobacco companies in “working to make our offering addictive at the outset.”

Kendall’s statement before the House Commerce subcommittee was based on the role he played as a director of monetization for Facebook from 2006 until 2010.

The subcommittee was looking on how social media platforms like FB, Twitter and Instagram can contribute to the mainstreaming of content that tend to radicalize people.

“The social media services that I and others have built over the past 15 years have served to tear people apart with alarming speed and intensity,” Kendall said in a statement before answering questions by legislators.

“At the very least, we have eroded our collective understanding — at worst, I fear we are pushing ourselves to the brink of a civil war,” he said.

Kendall said that during his time in the company, Facebook worked to mine as much of its users’ attention to hook them into browsing their accounts.

He explained that profits arise from engagements with content and that in Facebook, engagement was the overriding metric on which all decisions were made.

“We initially used engagement as sort of a proxy for user benefit. But we also started to realize that engagement could also mean (users) were sufficiently sucked in that they couldn’t work in their own best long-term interest to get off the platform,” Kendall told the committee.

“We started to see real-life consequences, but they weren’t given much weight. Engagement always won, it always trumped. There’s no incentive to stop (toxic content) and there’s incredible incentive to keep going and get better,” he added.

Kendall said that unless social media companies are made accountable financially, civilly or criminally, they will just brush aside the “harm that they create.”

Tech companies are being probed all around the world for possible antitrust lawsuits for being too powerful.

In an op-ed published last year, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes called for the company to be broken up for sacrificing security and civility for clicks.

“The government must hold (FB founder) Mark (Zuckerberg) accountable. It is time to break up Facebook,” Hughes wrote then.

Hughes repeated his messaging before the Anti-Trust Division of the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and the office of the New York Attorney General.

In June, software engineer Timothy Aveni resigned from Facebook for the company’s failure to censure US President Donald Trump over his statements that tended to rouse violence against protestors.

“I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand and process the decision not to remove the racist, violent post which Trump made Thursday night, but Facebook, complicit in the propagation of weaponized hatred, is on the wrong side of history,” Aveni wrote.

The day before Aveni’s resignation, hundreds of Facebook employees staged a virtual walkout to protest the company’s treatment of Trump with a kid’s glove.

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