Monday, May 27

The Top 5 Biggest Controversies of Facebook

It is rightly said, “Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.” The quote from Frank A. Clark rightly fits in the scenario, where world’s biggest media website Facebook is ongoing a heated criticism worldwide post its data breach controversy and Cambridge analytica scandal.

But, you would be surprised to know, this is not the first time when the social media giant has been in “hot waters”. Right from its foundation, early days to its taking the online world, it has faced numerous brickbats and contention time and again that has garnered a lot of attention worldwide.

The company that today has nearly 2.2 billion monthly active users worldwide has witnessed some major controversies time and again.

It has faced debacles over privacy concerns, instances of ad frauds, content theft, PR nightmares and what not. While the social media giant continues to be on the zenith, we bring down 5 most talked about major controversies and criticisms that have shaped the social media company as we know of it today.



1. Complicated History and Founder’s Tussle

People who are familiar with The Social Network know about Eduardo Saverin and the Winklevoss twins. Facebook’s co-founder Saverin was knocked out, sued the company and then settled at 5% stake in the company.


  • Until 2009, Eduardo Saverin was not even considered the co-founder. But a lawsuit and settlement made this happen.


  • Coming to basics, it was in 2003, when Zuckerberg (was a student at Harvard) approached Saverin(his junior) for and asked him to be his business partner.


  • Mark needed $15,000 for the servers to run the site and in returned he offered 30% of the company.


  • When Facebook took over in 2004 at social media website, Zuckerberg decided to move to Silicon Valley with another co-founder Dustin Moskovitz.


  • Meanwhile, Saverin was also doing an internship at Lehman Brothers in New York and this made his role too low in Facebook. Eventually, his stakes were reduced from 30% to over 10% from where his equity further diluted.


According to the Social Network, Saverin sued Facebook and the matter eventually got settled at the court where he was given 5%($2.5 billion today) of the company keeping him quite since.



2. Winklevoss Twins Controversy

It was in 2003 when Winklevoss twins approached Mark with their new project, HarvardConnection, a social networking site for Harvard students. Zuckerberg allegedly entered into a verbal contract with the Winklevosses, promising to help build the site in return for equity.

While Zuckerberg was busy with, he communicated with the brothers in a series of 52 emails. In February 2004, two days after was launched, Winklevosses got to know about the website. Few days after, a cease and desist letter was sent by the brothers to Zuckerberg.

Though Harvard Connection launched as ConnectU later, it failed to grab attention. ConnectU filed a lawsuit against Zuckerberg in 2004. It was only later in 2008, the two parties eventually settled when Facebook acquired ConnectU’s assets in exchange for shares worth $180 million today and $20 million in cash.

This did not put an end ConnectU filed another lawsuit in March 2018 to rescind the settlement.It was a confusing maze of lawsuits, but the bottom line is that Winklevoss twins settled their case with Facebook years ago.



3. Facebook Algorithm and Continued Censorship

Facebook had run into a deep trouble related to issues with its content development. Though the organizations follow a stringent framework into what is allowed on its website, there is a subjectivity involved.

For Example, Facebook found itself in a heated controversy when it had removed the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo on account of violating nudity guidelines.

The other part of the argument involved is in context of the Facebook algorithm, according to which the company serves content that is based on user’s activity and interest. A major attraction with Facebook feed is that it is based on the content you like and tailors according to you.The flip side of this personalization is the echo chamber i.e the algorithm chalks out everything that it believes the user will not like, wrapping the worldview.



4. Effect on the election

A most recent and major 2016’s Facebook controversy for Facebook was when it was accused on failure to clamp down fake news and the way its algorithm made use of user’s information that shaped the outcome of presidential election.

Antonio García Martínez, an employee at Facebook’s advertising sales department said,


It’s crazy that Zuckerberg says there’s no way Facebook can influence the election when there’s a whole sales force in Washington DC that does nothing but convince advertisers that they can.


Within the background of the election, misinformation and fake news, especially about an article suggesting Hilary Clinton be murdered or Pope favoring Trump, floated in social media so widely that even Barack Obama said that it had undermined the entire political process.

Widespread criticism over the issue eventually made Zuckerberg take the responsibility, who earlier shrugged it off stating rumors of defamation.He also came with an apologetic post outlining ways how platform would tackle the problem while preventing misuse and data theft.



5. Data-Breach, Russian Intrusion, and The Cambridge Analytica

The most recent scandal surrounded the breach of millions of users’ data by British voter profiling company, Cambridge Analytica, which campaigned for U.S President Donald Trump during the U.S Presidential Election in 2016. The British firm used information obtained from Facebook to target likely supporters of Trump during the election campaign.

Before the election, Facebook gave permission to a Russian researcher to conduct a survey via a third-party app on the social platform. The survey was filled by 200,000 users but the number of profiles affected by this app increased considerably due to the fact that it also collected data from the whole friend list of those who installed it. The information gathered was then sold to Cambridge Analytica when Trump hired their services.

The initial amount of those affected stood at 50 million users when the news first emerged last month, but the latest reports suggest that this figure actually stands at 80 million users. Cambridge Analytica claimed that they had data for 30 million Facebook users out of the total 2.2 billion users the social media possess.

Facebook is determined to win back the trust of its users by informing all the users involved in the data breach. Additionally, the social media platform is encouraging its users to shut down all third-party access to their Facebook accounts and is working on setting up “firewalls” to further protect the data of its users.



While, there’s no ready-made solution to problems like subjectivity of offensive content, the proliferation of fake news or personal data breach, we have witnessed some of the biggest scandals and PR crisis Facebook has faced so far.

Living in the times where social media has become an indispensable part of human lives, Facebook continues to be a major influencing force that is going to be in the center of conversation for some time.