Facebook’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year

And you thought you had a rough 2018?

Facebook faced scandal after scandal and struggled to contain the fallout.
Photo Illustration: Amber McAden; Source: Facebook

2018 has been a rough year for all of us, but the year has been particularly unfriendly to Facebook, as scandal after scandal has crashed down around it.

Need a refresher on Facebook’s worst year yet? Here’s a rundown of some of the major Facebook headlines, month by month.

January: The algorithm bomb

Facebook announced it was altering its news feed algorithm to prioritize posts from friends and family over “public content” from brands, publishers and businesses. The change sent shockwaves through the media industry, and some publishers who relied heavily on Facebook saw negative effects to referral traffic. One publisher of Facebook-friendly content, LittleThings, shut down in March, blaming the algorithm change for its demise.

February: Well, that didn’t age well

Thirteen Russians and three companies were indicted in an ongoing investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller III into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Part of that indictment included a nugget about more than $100,000 that the accused spent on Facebook to run ads critical of Hillary Clinton.

Enter Rob Goldman, Facebook’s vice president of ads, who said this in response to the news: “Most of the coverage of Russian meddling involves their attempt to effect the outcome of the 2016 US election,” he wrote on Twitter. “I have seen all of the Russian ads and I can say very definitively that swaying the election was *NOT* the main goal.”

March: The Cambridge Analytica blowup

On a late night in March, Facebook announced it had suspended a little-known data analytics firm that had worked with the Trump campaign. The vague blog post about the firm’s suspension came just hours before The New York Times and The Guardian reported that the firm, Cambridge Analytica, had obtained the data of tens of millions of Facebook users without their knowledge or consent to help build a powerful political influencing tool.

Facebook first threatened to sue Guardian journalists for their reporting and then downplayed the extent of the breach to reporters prior to the reports’ publication. In a post five days after the news broke, Zuckerberg said, “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you.”

As some users began downloading and deleting their Facebook accounts in a #DeleteFacebook protest, some learned the full extent of Facebook’s data-harvesting practices, including that Facebook was logging the incoming and outgoing calls and text messages of some users.

Meanwhile, Facebook and its messaging app WhatsApp were banned in Sri Lanka after hate speech on the platforms fueled anti-Muslim riots. The United Nations, investigating ethnic violence in Myanmar, said hate speech and violence on Facebook was a factor. And BuzzFeed News reported that Facebook vp Andrew Bosworth once wrote that Facebook would connect people even if “it costs a lift by exposing someone to bullies” or if “someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.”

Speaking of WhatsApp, one of the app’s co-founders—Brian Acton, who left Facebook in 2017—told Facebook users to delete their Facebook accounts.

April: ‘I’ll have my team follow up with you’

The Cambridge Analytica news was worse than originally reported. Facebook said 87 million people had their personal information accessed, nearly twice as much as had previously been disclosed.

Zuckerberg testified before senators and Congress to face questions about the company’s business practices and its approach to collecting and handling personal data. The testimony revealed that some sitting lawmakers were not particularly knowledgeable about how big tech operates, but some lawmakers began to lay the groundwork for possible regulations and antitrust actions. And Zuckerberg failed to answer some basic questions from lawmakers, often saying he’d get back to them later.

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