Facebook Admits Social Media Can Be Very Bad for Democracy

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A Facebook logo is seen on an iPhone screen in this photo illustration on Nov. 20, 2017. 

Facebook said Monday that it has fallen short in keeping the social media network from becoming a medium for foreign meddling to influence the U.S. presidential election.

New blog posts written by Facebook executives appear to be the most critical self-assessment yet of the social media network's effect on American democracy. Samidh Chakrabarti, the company's product manager for civic engagement, said the 2016 presidential election has forced Facebook to confront harsh questions about the role it has played in spreading false information and intensifying divisiveness in the current political climate.

"Facebook was originally designed to connect friends and family -- and it has excelled at that," Chakrabarti wrote in a blog post Monday. "But as unprecedented numbers of people channel their political energy through this medium, it's being used in unforeseen ways with societal repercussions that were never anticipated."

"In 2016, we at Facebook were far too slow to recognize how bad actors were abusing our platform," Chakrabarti added. "We're working diligently to neutralize these risks now."

The posts by Chakrabarti and other company executives also included an acknowledgment of the work still needed to be done.

"Now, we're as determined as ever to fight the negative influences and ensure that our platform is unquestionably a source for democratic good," wrote Katie Harbath, Facebook's global politics and government outreach director. "There is much to build on in this regard, from the powerful role social media plays in giving people a voice in the democratic process to its ability to deliver information on an unprecedented scale. Our role is to ensure that the good outweighs the forces that can compromise healthy discourse."

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged as much in a post earlier this year, saying his "personal challenge for 2018" is to fix the social media platform he founded.

Facebook, he said, makes "too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools."

In response to mounting criticism, Facebook has used third-party fact-checkers to help flag fake-news stories and is planning to poll users on what news sources they trust.