Siva Vaidhyanathan: Facebook has just suffered its most devastating PR catastrophe yet / Jonathan Freedland: Is Facebook the tobacco industry of the 21st century?

In recent days, Frances Haugen, a former member of Facebook’s “civic integrity team”, has launched a deft and professional public assault on the company. Unlike previous Facebook whistle-blowers, like former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang, Haugen managed to capture the interest and attention of policy leaders and journalists around the world. We have to ask why Haugen has had so much traction and impact when Zhang, who was fired for raising objections within the company to Facebook’s human rights problems, did not.

The most straightforward answer is that Haugen pushed forward a problem that strikes the concerns of many – if not most – parents in the developed world: Instagram’s influence on the prevalence of eating disorders, self-harm and suicide among teenaged girls. This was an issue that Americans, especially, understand and recoil against…

Is Facebook the tobacco industry of the 21st century? 

Will we one day think of Facebook the way we now think of cigarettes? Or is the company more akin to the gun lobby? Perhaps the alcohol industry is the closer fit. As we shall see, there’s merit in all three comparisons, given the lethal harm this company is inflicting. Except those parallels actually understate the problem.

For none of them quite gets at the sheer scale and power of this single corporation. That reality was made especially vivid this week, when a six-hour outage confirmed that 3 billion people around the globe have come to depend on Facebook, along with its properties WhatsApp and Instagram, as the place to do business and find out about the world. Facebook might like to pretend that it’s simply a place where friends and family can “connect”, but it’s much bigger than that – and far more dangerous…

Marina Hyde: The question every politician should be asking is, what does Mark Zuckerberg want with us?

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