Facebook knew that the changes it had made pushed users to spend more time sharing viral content years before they helped fake false news

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Facebook knew that changes to its platform to increase public engagement pushed its users to spend more time sharing viral content, years before its social media platform helped unleash a wave of false news and incitement hatred in the digital world.

In an internal Facebook presentation of 2014 transmitted to journalists from Great Britain and shared with The Globe and Mail, employees discuss how the transition from desktop to mobile in the last two years has changed the way users interacted with the platform.

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Facebook changed its platform in 2012 and 2013 to make it easier for people to share content from their phones and to encourage users to spend more time at will, commenting and reshuffling posts.

The changes came at a time when Facebook was becoming public and was looking for ways to improve its business model, as shown by the company's internal e-mails. The social media company started showing ads in its news feed in 2012. To encourage users to spend more time on Facebook, the Silicon Valley company said it would focus on making news feeds more personalized and giving priority to the most appealing content – post that had received a large number of likes, shares and comments "from the world in general and from your friends in particular." Several online publishers, including sites like Buzzfeed, have seen a surge in referral traffic from Facebook, as the social-media company has made it easier to encourage viral post sharing.

Critics and researchers have long warned that the social media company's efforts to encourage people to spend more time on the platform – in order to show them more publicity – have helped encourage the spread of misinformation and shaped the opinions of the online public.

The details of the internal discussions of the company are contained in documents sealed by a California court in the context of a lawsuit involving Facebook and the app developer Six4Three. Some documents were seized by a British parliamentary commission investigating the company, which published 250 pages of the judicial file at the end of last year.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the last issue of leaked documents on Sunday. However, the company has previously stated that court documents, dating from 2012 to 2015, had been "caught red-handed" by the lawsuit and did not reflect the full scope of internal company discussions. "The set of documents, by definition, tells only one side of the story and omits an important context".

Years later, Facebook is now at the center of a widespread reaction on the algorithms that social-media platforms use to prioritize and recommend content that has helped undermine democratic elections and spread hate speech and incitement. online misinformation.

Aiming to combat the spread of hate speech, online disinformation and political extremism, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a radical overhaul of the Facebook news feed rating system last year for prioritize friends' posts on publishers and brands.

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But the social media giant had warning signs that changes to their news feeds influenced user behavior. According to the internal presentation, when employees studied the effects of the changes in 2014, they noticed that people were redistributing dramatically more posts, but were writing fewer status updates and other text messages.

"When we reviewed the shares in the system, text messages decreased," the presentation says. "Correlation does not always imply causality – but it does so in this case". The changes were only partially canceled by 2014, the notes of the document, but it does not specify which changes have been reversed.

Employees also noticed that the posts people wrote seemed to be influenced by the type of content they were seeing in their feed.

The data suggested that while people often decided in advance if they wanted to post a photo on Facebook, written posts tended to occur more spontaneously – with people deciding to write a message only after reading something they had found on Facebook.

"Unlike photos, text messages are malleable and can be" activated "by what users see in the feeds", wrote the company.

About 7,000 documents in the file were first reported by digital magazine Computer Weekly, NBC and independent investigative journalist Duncan Campbell. The Globe has viewed more than 300 pages of those documents.

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The social-media company was also a turning point in the global data privacy regulatory debate after the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica wrongly consulted personal information on tens of millions of users.

On Friday, the US Federal Trade Commission approved a record $ 5 billion record against Facebook on how it handled the personal information of its more than two billion users. It is also expected that the agreement will be accompanied by closer regulatory oversight of Facebook's data privacy practices. Facebook had previously claimed to have been fined between $ 3 billion and US $ 5 billion.

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