People must not pay any price for Facebook's commercial success Image Credit: Pixabay

The appearance of a former Facebook executive before a committee of British parliamentarians in London on Monday has underscored the all-embracing and powerful position occupied by Facebook on the social media landscape.

The company, through its platform and subsidiaries at Instagram and WhatsApp, has almost half of the people on this planet enrolled — a face that underscores its powerful influence on its users and on society in general.

Harmful content

Frances Haugen told UK lawmakers that regulators have just a small window of time to act against the company and its failure to prevent hate speech and other harmful content proliferating on its pages — a process that Haugen has repeatedly claimed is part and parcel of the algorithms used by the platform.

What’s more, Haugen’s claims are supported by the leak of thousands of pages of internal documents — putting the company and its executives in poor light.

For lawmakers the world over, the sheer size of Facebook and its ability to influence people and the outcome of events poses a quandary. Just how do you regulate Artificial Intelligence. And, when companies are so protective of their key algorithms, how can that be controlled through human oversight?

What is clear is that while company officials have tried to reassure those who express concerns over the way its content is shared depending on users’ preferences — or how AI extrapolates those preferences to effectively promote harmful content — the leaked documents and growing body of whistleblowers indicate otherwise. It has placed profits over people.

Over the past month, and since Haugen turned whistleblower, it’s clear that the social media behemoth was aware for some time that its content was harmful — and particularly so to young adults and teens.

For parents of children who are obsessed with capturing the right selfie on their mobile phones to be posted to pals on social media, the power and influence of the company and its platforms is frightening.

In recent days — and certainly the revelations of Haugen and from the documents have damaged its reputation and image — Facebook has suggested that it might change its name. A makeover will not fix the travails facing this company, nor will rebranding — it is the sheer size and influence that are the issues, not what it might be called.

There is no doubt that the company is a huge commercial success and its share price seems impervious to its failings. But people must not pay any price for that commercial success.