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Facebook is 'pushing US towards civil war' and making people sick, says former executive

Laurence Dodds
·2-min read
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint hearing of the Commerce and Judiciary Committees on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election - Carolyn Kaster/AP
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint hearing of the Commerce and Judiciary Committees on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election - Carolyn Kaster/AP

Facebook may be pushing the United States towards a second civil war by amplifying the most divisive voices in pursuit of profit, a former employee has claimed.

Tim Kendall, Facebook's first director of monetisation, told the US Congress on Thursday that the company had used "Big Tobacco" tactics to make their product as addictive as possible without regard for its social impact.

He compared the social media giant's content ranking algorithms, which have been widely accused of deepening partisan divides by prioritising anger and controversy, to an arms dealer who supplies both sides of a conflict.

It comes after reports that some of Facebook's current employees are concerned about its group recommendation system, which experts believe has directed potentially millions of people towards extremist groups.

Mr Kendall said: "When I started working in technology, my hope was to build products that brought people together in new and productive ways. I wanted to improve the world we all lived in.

Technology intelligence - newsletter promo - EOA
Technology intelligence - newsletter promo - EOA

"Instead, the social media services that I and others have built over the past 15 years have served to tear people apart with alarming speed and intensity. 

"At the very least, we have eroded our collective understanding; at worst, I fear we are pushing ourselves to the brink of a civil war....

"Social media is not the root cause of every problem we’re facing. But I believe it may be the most powerful accelerant in history. These services are making us sick. These services are dividing us."

Facebook declined to comment.

The hearing was part of a general attack by US politicians on "section 230", the law that effectively created modern social media by broadly exempting them from liability for what others post on their services.

That law has become increasingly controversial as activists and politicians probe the way tech giants' own algorithms have functioned like traditional editors, choosing what users see and often directing them towards the extreme content.

On Thursday a Senate committee said it would issue subpoenas to the chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter to testify about the law on October 1.

Mr Kendall, who left Facebook in 2010, claimed that the company had set out to "prey on the most primal parts of your brain", finding that "extreme, incendiary content" created unprecedented activity, and therefore profits.