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Did Facebook’s Algorithms Make Trump’s Damage Worse? Zuckerberg Owes the Public Answers, Reforms.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen sent a letter today to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demanding answers to a series of startling questions raised by the Facebook Oversight Board decision upholding the ban of former President Donald Trump from the platform.

The Oversight Board sought clarification from Facebook about the extent to which platform design decisions – including algorithms, policies, procedures, and technical features – amplified Trump’s harmful posts, and whether Facebook conducted any internal analysis of whether its design decisions contributed to the insurrection on Jan. 6. But Facebook declined to answer.

“We are writing now to urge you immediately to provide those clarifications publicly and to make public any internal analysis about how Facebook’s design features contributed to the events of January 6,” Public Citizen’s letter reads. “In light of what occurred on January 6, the idea that Facebook would keep such analysis secret is shocking. Equally shocking is the possibility that Facebook has not conducted any such analysis.”

“After the lies that Trump spread on Facebook that fueled the Jan. 6 insurrection and misled the public about COVID-19, Facebook has a duty to analyze and share with the public how its design features, decisions, and policies contributed to the harm that Trump inflicted through his social media posts,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen and author of the letter. “Unlike with content moderation decisions, platform design decisions are problems of the company’s own making. If Facebook’s design features boosted the same disastrously harmful posts that got Trump banned, the tech giant has a responsibility to the public to disclose that and immediately fix it.”

Questions that should be answered include:

  • How did the Facebook algorithm treat extremist content from Trump that violated Facebook’s own community standards? In what ways did it amplify it?
  • How did the algorithm treat forwards of Trumps standards-violating posts and derivative content? In what ways did it amplify it?
  • How did users receive and view Trump’s standards-violating posts? Did any Facebook features or policies elevate those posts?
  • In what ways, if any, did advertisements or paid promotions amplify standards-violating posts?
  • How did participants in the Jan. 6 insurrection use Facebook and in what ways, if any, did Facebook features or policies facilitate that usage?

The letter calls on Zuckerberg to make public any internal analyses that explain how Facebook’s design features amplified the damage that Donald Trump inflicted through his posts – and if there are no such analyses, to conduct them immediately and make the full results public.