Facebook: Wall Street Journal series 'contained deliberate mischaracterizations'

Facebook: Wall Street Journal series 'contained deliberate mischaracterizations'
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Facebook on Saturday pushed back against The Wall Street Journal’s explosive series on the social media giant, saying the stories “contained deliberate mischaracterizations of what we are trying to do, and conferred egregiously false motives to Facebook’s leadership and employees.”

The five-part series, which ran last week, examines how Facebook has handled a number of issues including anti-COVID-19 vaccine rhetoric, the effects of Instagram’s app on younger users and the company’s response to employees who raised concerns about human traffickers and drug cartels on the platform.

The Journal’s reporting was based on internal documents such as online employee discussions, research reports and presentation drafts.

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The series alleged that Facebook had downplayed negative effects of Instagram; allowed opponents of the vaccine to spread COVID-19 misinformation or anti-vaccine rhetoric on its platform; and failed to provide a strong response when concerns were raised about human traffickers using their platform.

In a blog post on Saturday, Nick Clegg, Facebook’s Vice President of Global Affairs, argued the stories took a “deliberately lop-sided view of the wider facts.”

"At the heart of this series is an allegation that is just plain false: that Facebook conducts research and then systematically and willfully ignores it if the findings are inconvenient for the company," Clegg writes.

"This impugns the motives and hard work of thousands of researchers, policy experts and engineers at Facebook who strive to improve the quality of our products, and to understand their wider (positive and negative) impact," he added. 

Taking aim at the story about COVID-19 misinformation on the platform, Clegg noted that since January, vaccine hesitancy had declined around 50 percent among Facebook users in the United States. 

Seemingly in response to another story on the effects of Instagram among young users, Clegg said “that research into the impact social media has on people is still relatively nascent and evolving, and social media itself is changing rapidly.”

Clegg acknowledged that “it is absolutely legitimate for us to be held to account for how we deal with” issues like misinformation and content moderation but later added in his blog post that “we fundamentally reject this mischaracterization of our work and impugning of the company’s motives.”

Following his blog post, Clegg told Axios in an interview that the company was committed to providing external researchers with more data to examine.

“We're not yet in the kind of sustainable, sensible place as far as how we make Facebook data available to external researchers," Clegg told Axios. "That's a journey we're on. We are keen that Facebook should try and make meaningful data available."

Dustin Volz, a Journal reporter covering cyber and intelligence who did not work on the series, argued that Facebook’s response did not deny specific points raised in the Journal’s investigation.

“This Facebook statement huffs and puffs about ‘mischaracterizations’ and ‘lop-sided views’ but what it lacks is a refutation of any specific facts reported by WSJ,” Volz tweeted on Saturday.

The Hill has reached out to the Journal for comment.