What the WSJ Facebook Files Mean for Your Business
Last week, the Wall Street Journal podcast, The Journal, released a series of podcast episodes called “The Facebook Files”. These episodes have brought a lot of attention and have started a lot of conversations about what Facebook and Instagram are doing behind the scenes that is affecting our mental health and safety. The Files are also causing many to ask what role social media platforms have in policing content on their platform. The series is absolutely fascinating and I recommend that you listen for yourself. I’d love to share thoughts on what the WSJ Facebook Files mean for your business.
This is a business blog, so why would I write a whole article about the behind-the-scenes of Facebook? Like many businesses, I depend on social media platforms to reach my audience. Because social media is a relatively new system, changes happen all of the time. These changes impact my business and will impact yours as well. I predict that this deep dive into Facebook by the WSJ will launch more conversations about the responsibility social media platforms have to protect users, regulate content, and create a safer place for us online. These conversations will prompt changes and these changes will undoubtedly affect our businesses. Before I dive into what you need to know as a business owner, let’s start with the basics:
**Facebook owns Instagram, so throughout the remainder of the post, when I say “Facebook”, I mean “Facebook + Instagram”.
What are The Facebook Files?
The Facebook Files is a podcast series created by the Wall Street Journal for their podcast, The Journal. The Journal reporters were given access to some of Facebook’s internal documents. The podcast show notes state that it is, “an investigative series from the The Wall Street Journal, (that) dives into an extensive array of internal Facebook documents, giving an unparalleled look inside the social media giant.”
There are currently four different episodes, each deep diving into different issues.
A summary of each episode of The Facebook Files:
The Facebook Files Episode 1. The Whitelist
What is the Facebook’s Whitelist: An internal list in Facebook of people who have immunity from being shut down or having their posts removed for inappropriate content. Basically, they have free reign to post anything they want without Facebook taking negative action against them.
Even though Facebook says publicly that they have standards and those standards apply to everyone on the platform no matter who you are or how many followers you have, that isn’t true. They have a list that is called “The Whitelist”. This list of accounts are people who have large followings and are famous in some way. The list started because Facebook was monitoring comments and content that would violate their policies (like hate speech or sexual content), but some big accounts had some of their content wrongly removed and Facebook came under fire for doing it. Because of that, they started creating these lists and they were initially called “cross check” or “XCheck” and instead of removing questionable content from high profile accounts automatically, Facebook would be notified and the accounts would be looked into. The problem was that this new system was inaccurate 10% of the time which led to some big PR problems for Facebook. So, they created The Whitelist which protects big accounts from being monitored or from their content being removed. The White List has millions of accounts on it and is not very organized. This White List has lead to big accounts getting away with posting hate speech, sexual content, and misinformation.
Facebook knows it is a problem, but they don’t have a good way to fix it.
From the Wall Street Journal:
Mark Zuckerberg has said Facebook allows its users to speak on equal footing with the elites of politics, culture and journalism, and that its standards apply to everyone. In private, the company has built a system that has exempted high-profile users from some or all of its rules. The program, known as “cross check” or “XCheck,” was intended as a quality-control measure for high-profile accounts. Today, it shields millions of VIPs from the company’s normal enforcement, the documents show. Many abuse the privilege, posting material including harassment and incitement to violence that would typically lead to sanctions. Facebook says criticism of the program is fair, that it was designed for a good purpose and that the company is working to fix it. (Listen to a related podcast.)
The Facebook Files Episode 2: We Make Body Image Issues Worse
Facebook has researched how being on Instagram affects the emotional and mental health of teen girls. The results weren’t good for Facebook. The internal research showed that being on Instagram hurts one in three teen girls. They have known this and have done very little about it and refuse to release their research to the public.
From the Wall Street Journal:
Researchers inside Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, have been studying for years how its photo-sharing app affects millions of young users. Repeatedly, the company found that Instagram is harmful for a sizable percentage of them, most notably teenage girls, more so than other social-media platforms. In public, Facebook has consistently played down the app’s negative effects, including in comments to Congress, and hasn’t made its research public or available to academics or lawmakers who have asked for it. In response, Facebook says the negative effects aren’t widespread, that the mental-health research is valuable and that some of the harmful aspects aren’t easy to address. (Listen to a related podcast.)
The Facebook Files Episode 3: This Shouldn’t Happen on Facebook
Facebook is being used by human and sex traffickers all over the world to trick women into terrible, abusive employment situations. Employees raised alarm about this, but not much was done. Facebook says that they are trying to do more to stop these things from happening.
From the Wall Street Journal:
Scores of Facebook documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal show employees raising alarms about how its platforms are used in developing countries, where its user base is huge and expanding. Employees flagged that human traffickers in the Middle East used the site to lure women into abusive employment situations. They warned that armed groups in Ethiopia used the site to incite violence against ethnic minorities. They sent alerts to their bosses about organ selling, pornography and government action against political dissent, according to the documents. They also show the company’s response, which in many instances is inadequate or nothing at all. A Facebook spokesman said the company has deployed global teams, local partnerships and third-party fact checkers to keep users safe. (Listen to a related podcast.)
The Facebook Files Episode 4: The Outrage Algorithm
In 2018, Facebook saw a big dip in engagement. They were still getting the same amount of views, but less people were engaging with the content and were becoming passive consumers. In fear that people would get bored of the app and wake up to the fact that they were just mindlessly consuming content, Facebook started a new algorithm that was based on how much engagement a post received. So, if a post got a lot of shares, likes, and comments then they would show it in your feed. Before this algorithm change, the algorithm favored closeness in relationship. The new algorithm favors reactions. The problem here is that the posts that get the most reactions are the ones that are divisive and outrageous. Inside of Facebook, there were people who raised alarms that the new algorithm was making users angrier and their community more divisive. When fixes were proposed, Mark Zuckerberg didn’t take action to fix the problem because he was afraid people would leave Facebook.
From the Wall Street Journal:
Facebook made a heralded change to its algorithm in 2018 designed to improve its platform—and arrest signs of declining user engagement. Mr. Zuckerberg declared his aim was to strengthen bonds between users and improve their well-being by fostering interactions between friends and family. Within the company, the documents show, staffers warned the change was having the opposite effect. It was making Facebook, and those who used it, angrier. Mr. Zuckerberg resisted some fixes proposed by his team, the documents show, because he worried they would lead people to interact with Facebook less. Facebook, in response, says any algorithm can promote objectionable or harmful content and that the company is doing its best to mitigate the problem. (Listen to a related podcast.)
Predicted Outcome of the Facebook Files:
Social media isn’t going away, but governments and organizations are going to be taking a closer look on how it is used and how its usage impacts our culture and society.
Individuals will be more mindful of how they consume social media, which may lead to a decrease in social media activity.
What do the WSJ Facebook Files mean for your business?
I love social media. Being able to reach my audience in a daily, authentic way has helped my business grow faster. The danger to social media is that it moves so fast and is so addictive. We also put too much focus on gaining followers instead of using social media to drive our profits. With increased pressure from governing bodies, Facebook may start to change and to implement to safeguards or restrictions. This could lead to less people using the app and it could lead to less people on the app seeing your content.
How can you protect yourself from this?
1. Know your audience and serve them really well.
The key to growing your business is to be really good at serving your audience. If you have a loyal audience that trusts you, you will be able to withstand any change in social media. To build that loyal following, consistently show up and add value to their lives. Try to become the go-to source for whatever your expertise is.
2. Start and grow an email list.
You don’t own your followers on social media, Facebook does. They can change the algorithm, block your account, or whatever and you really can’t do a lot about it. Having your email list gives you a way to be able to contact your audience on your terms.
My favorite email list platforms are:
Davinci (the one I use because it hosts my email list, courses, and a lot more)
If you are ready to get started on creating your email list, check out my 14 Day Email List Challenge. This challenge will take you from not knowing how to create your email list, to having a successful list.
3. Get a website.
Many people just starting out in their business rely too heavily on social media to do the selling. You need a website. Having your own website is like owning a piece of real estate on the internet. It is a place where you have control of the content and where you direct people to go. Having a website also makes you more professional and makes it easier for people to trust that you are a legit business.
If you are ready to get your website up and running quickly, I have some website templates that are specifically designed to convert viewers into buyers. You can check them out here.
4. Diversify your marketing strategy.
Please, please don’t put all of your eggs in the social media basket. Have a blog, podcast, or YouTube account where you are adding value. This not only sets you up as the expert but also helps more people discover your content.
I know, all this information about what the WSJ Facebook Files mean for your business is pretty heavy. However, it’s good to know, especially as a business owner. I can’t think of a better time than right now to get more comfortable with an email list and website for your company. Since things are so unknown with social media, it’s nice to know I have my website and email list to fall back on just in case. I want that for you too. Sign up for my text list to get all the latest tips and tricks on running a successful biz. You can join by texting “Instagram” to 951.309.7885.