Since we last updated The Facebook Timeline of Scandal and Strife, Meta has seen major changes.
While CEO Zuck hasn’t melded other minds with machines or uploaded his own neural network to the metaverse, his latest scheme is equally dystopian if more mundane: squeezing his workforce to reduce costs and reap extravagant profits – $23.2 billion in 2022.
After renaming workers his “metamates” in February 2022, Zuck laid off 11,000 of those mates in November 2022. Then, he said he would lay off 10,000 more by June 2023. Guess meta-mating isn’t forever.
Of course, as layoffs sweep Silicon Valley, casualties include positions in safety and ethics. Zuck insists Meta won’t shirk its responsibilities. But how could anyone believe that Meta prioritizes security or integrity? Our Timeline shows exactly how it has failed.
The latest update expands our list of reasons to distrust Meta. In addition, we’re using the CreativeFuture Big Tech Fine Tracker (patent pending), which debuted successfully in The Google Timeline of Scandal and Strife (March 2023).
Although Meta has been fined numerous times by a myriad of governments, our tracker only tallies fines and legal settlements for the items we mention below. Since this is our first time using our tracker with Facebook, we’ll continue to add to this update’s total in future timeline installments. Get ready for some sphincter-clenching numbers!
November 28, 2022
For the fourth time in 18 months, Ireland’s Data Privacy Commission (DPC) fined Meta for violating the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Meta incurred this new fine by failing to protect users’ phone numbers and other data, which were scraped by a third party from May 2018 to September 2019 and then released online. Since Ireland’s DPC has 13 ongoing investigations into Meta, more fines may be coming soon. We’d better reinforce the fine tracker, so it won’t break!
Fine Tracker: $277,000,000
December 11, 2022
Over 1,200 families are suing Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and similar platforms for harming children’s mental health. The complaints come in the wake of leaked Meta internal research documents, which showed that children’s use of Instagram leads to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, eating disorders, self-harm, and suicide among teenagers, particularly girls. According to one lawsuit, an 11-year-old girl developed depression and an eating disorder after Meta’s algorithms drove pro-anorexia content to her Instagram feed. According to another lawsuit, a 14-year-old girl hanged herself after watching a demonstration video on Instagram. These stories were reported on the CBS news program 60 Minutes, which confirmed through an independent investigation that Instagram readily leads teenagers to dangerous posts.
December 23, 2022
Although Meta continues to deny wrongdoing, it agreed to pay $725 million to settle a class-action lawsuit stemming from the scandal surrounding the now-defunct Cambridge Analytica firm. The company acquired and exploited data from 87 million Facebook users in attempts to influence the UK’s Brexit vote and the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. As a result of the settlement, between 250 million and 280 million people may be eligible for payments. Lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote, “The amount of the recovery is particularly striking given that Facebook argued that its users consented to the practices at issue, and that the class suffered no actual damages.”
Fine Tracker: $1,002,000,000
January 4, 2023
The Irish Data Privacy Commission has concluded that Meta must pay another €390 million ($414 million) for violating the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Previously, the Irish regulator said Meta was permitted to require users to accept microtargeted, personalized ads as part of its terms of service. But a board of regulators from other EU countries ordered that the case be reevaluated. The corrected verdict is a step toward greater online privacy protections; however, digital rights advocates pointed out that enforcement of the GDPR, passed in 2018, has been painfully slow. While user privacy remains in jeopardy, Meta luxuriates in the fine line between law and justice.
Fine Tracker: $1,416,000,000
January 10, 2023
A group called Digital Rights Ireland (DRI) is suing Ireland’s DPC (the same commission that fined Meta back in November 2022) for alleged failures to hold Meta accountable under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). When assessing the $277 million fine in late 2022, the Irish regulator faulted Meta for violating privacy-by-design standards but not data security requirements. If the Irish regulator had found Meta responsible for security violations, then Meta would have had to notify 100 million EU Facebook users that their data had been compromised. Furthermore, Meta could be held liable for individual harms resulting from the breach or be subjected to a costly class-action lawsuit. DRI argues that the finding of more serious violations was warranted: “it makes no sense to say that there’s a notifiable breach if somebody picks the lock but not if you don’t bother locking the door to begin with.” It’s an apt metaphor for Meta’s characteristic negligence.
February 27, 2023
In 2019, Meta promised to invest $300 million in journalism partnerships over 3 years, but in 2023, the Tow Center at Columbia University could only document that the company had disbursed $29.9 million to local news providers. Out of these 559 recipient organizations, 239 (43%) received only $5,000 each. Meta advertised its journalism grants as a way to support local newsrooms, but it has refused to disclose records of what it’s actually doing. As the Tow Center pointed out, the apparent default on Meta’s promise to local news providers appeared consistent with its other anti-journalism actions: Meta laid off employees in charge of news partnerships and opposed legislation to help news organizations in Australia and Canada (not to mention the United States). Of course, Meta’s philanthropy was a pretense: after decimating the journalism industry, it wanted to varnish its image. Too bad a polished pile of shit is still … well, you know.
March 3, 2023
According to incisive commentary from Slate, Meta’s decision to sell verification badges for $11.99/month reflects a broader trend in social media, a trend that has deprioritized everyday users in favor of influencers or other professional creators. The trend began with TikTok, which surfaces content based on a discovery algorithm rather than a friendship network. After Twitter and Snapchat released subscription-based verification products for their most dedicated users, Facebook followed suit, offering account verification, improved customer service, and boosted prominence for monthly subscribers. The decision would seem like an about-face for a company premised on “giv[ing] people a voice” or “build[ing] connection and community” … but we long ago came to whistleblower Frances Haugen’s conclusion that Facebook prioritizes profits over people.
April 20, 2023
The Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT), a group including the FBI and 14 police agencies from around the world, has decried Meta’s plan to encrypt more messages. The VGT believes Meta’s plan would lead to an increase in child sexual exploitation. End-to-end encryption scrambles messages so that they can be read only by the sender and receiver, increasing privacy but preventing detection of illegal activities. WhatsApp already uses end-to-end encryption, but Meta has planned to implement it on Instagram and Facebook since 2019. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Meta reported 1.3 million instances of child exploitation on WhatsApp and 22 million instances on Facebook in 2021. The disparity in reports from WhatsApp and Facebook casts doubt on Meta’s claims that it can flag abuse without access to private messages. But more widespread encryption does seem likely to reduce the amount of abuse Meta would have to report – drastically. With children’s safety at risk, would Meta nevertheless roll out a cost-saving scheme? Abso-fucking-lutely.
May 1, 2023
Facebook secretly donated $34 million to American Edge Project, a nonprofit group that opposed major federal antitrust legislation. The revelation came from an anonymous but seemingly disaffected member of the nonprofit organization. In June 2021, the House Judiciary Committee passed numerous antitrust bills. In January 2022, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the American Innovation and Choice Online Act. Meanwhile, American Edge Project spent millions of dollars for online or televised ads, such as this horror show, which stoked fears about impacts on small businesses and national security. Ultimately, Congress enacted no antitrust legislation. Thanks to OpenSecrets, we already knew that Facebook had publicly spent $39 million on lobbying in 2021 and 2022. Now, with the addition of the secret donation to American Edge Project, the total appears 87% higher. This leads us to wonder: How much of Meta’s dark money is still out there, sabotaging democracy?
May 3, 2023
While Congress debates bills to protect children online, Meta and other tech behemoths have aggressively lobbied state legislators, hoping to prevent them from filling gaps in federal legislation. Publicly, Big Tech claims to care about children’s safety, but it pays nonprofit fronts and trade organizations like NetChoice to oppose new regulations. Maryland House of Delegates Member Jared Solomon said that Silicon Valley-funded groups have been accusing legislators of “shredding the First Amendment” and “destroying the internet.” Gee, where have we heard those hysterical claims before? Whether Big Tech is shutting down online safety bills or sabotaging commonsense anti-piracy measures, it uses the same disingenuous playbook. Unfortunately, that playbook is backed by an obscene amount of ill-gotten gains.
Fine Tracker Total: $1,416,000,000
Even by a selective count, Meta’s fines are enormous. The tracker is useful for visual illustration, but unfortunately, it doesn’t measure the full extent of Meta’s wrongs. The lawsuit from Digital Rights Ireland is a good reminder of that point; the slow pace of government enforcement and absence of needed legislation are others.
As we review some of Meta’s recent spending on fines, legal settlements, and lobbying – remembering all the while that Zuck has been making massive layoffs – we’re left to wonder: How many jobs in trust, safety, and legal compliance could be saved if Meta would invest in creating ethical platforms, instead of maximizing shareholder profits?
We doubt we’ll ever know the answer. We’re certain, though, that the $1,416,000,000 tracked in this timeline update does not even begin to make up for the harms Meta has inflicted on people around the world.