Inside Facebook’s Data Wars
Executives at the social network have clashed over CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned data tool that revealed users’ high engagement levels with right-wing media sources. From a report: One day in April, the people behind CrowdTangle, a data analytics tool owned by Facebook, learned that transparency had limits. Brandon Silverman, CrowdTangle’s co-founder and chief executive, assembled dozens of employees on a video call to tell them that they were being broken up. CrowdTangle, which had been running quasi-independently inside Facebook since being acquired in 2016, was being moved under the social network’s integrity team, the group trying to rid the platform of misinformation and hate speech. Some CrowdTangle employees were being reassigned to other divisions, and Mr. Silverman would no longer be managing the team day to day. The announcement, which left CrowdTangle’s employees in stunned silence, was the result of a yearlong battle among Facebook executives over data transparency, and how much the social network should reveal about its inner workings. On one side were executives, including Mr. Silverman and Brian Boland, a Facebook vice president in charge of partnerships strategy, who argued that Facebook should publicly share as much information as possible about what happens on its platform — good, bad or ugly.

On the other side were executives, including the company’s chief marketing officer and vice president of analytics, Alex Schultz, who worried that Facebook was already giving away too much. They argued that journalists and researchers were using CrowdTangle, a kind of turbocharged search engine that allows users to analyze Facebook trends and measure post performance, to dig up information they considered unhelpful — showing, for example, that right-wing commentators like Ben Shapiro and Dan Bongino were getting much more engagement on their Facebook pages than mainstream news outlets. These executives argued that Facebook should selectively disclose its own data in the form of carefully curated reports, rather than handing outsiders the tools to discover it themselves. Team Selective Disclosure won, and CrowdTangle and its supporters lost. An internal battle over data transparency might seem low on the list of worthy Facebook investigations. But the CrowdTangle story is important, because it illustrates the way that Facebook’s obsession with managing its reputation often gets in the way of its attempts to clean up its platform. And it gets to the heart of one of the central tensions confronting Facebook in the post-Trump era. The company, blamed for everything from election interference to vaccine hesitancy, badly wants to rebuild trust with a skeptical public. But the more it shares about what happens on its platform, the more it risks exposing uncomfortable truths that could further damage its image.

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