Lots Of Big Media Companies Had Access To The Facebook Files; Only Gizmodo Decided To Put In The Work To Make Them Public
from the good-for-them dept
Over the last month or so, you’ve probably heard a lot about the Facebook Files or the Facebook Papers, which are the documents shared by former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen with the media, starting with the Wall Street Journal, and then a rather reluctant “consortium” of seventeen big name US-based news organizations. The reluctance was apparent in the name of the Slack group created for all of the reporters working on the project: “Apparently We’re A Consortium Now.”
While I’ve been skeptical of some of the framing of the reporting on the papers, I still do generally believe it was a good thing to get this research out to the world — even if I have little confidence that the media could ever do a good job conveying the story.
As news of the consortium broke, many people called out the fact that all of these big journalism organizations weren’t actually releasing the documents they were going through themselves, often only describing them or quoting parts of them. Given that in a few cases where we’ve been able to see the full documents, it has appeared that some of the reporting was misleading or confused, this was a concern. And, of course, there were other concerns about the makeup of the consortium, and the fact that it was entirely based in the US.
That doesn’t mean that it made sense to freely release all the documents to the public. There are plenty of reasonable concerns about privacy when you have a giant cache of internal documents. That’s why it’s a good thing to find out that Gizmodo has now taken on the task of making the Facebook Papers public, and doing so in partnership with a bunch of independent experts who will help Gizmodo’s reporters sift through the documents and make sure that they’re okay to be released:
Today, we see a strong public need can be served by making as many of the documents public as possible, as quickly as possible. To that end, weâ€™ve partnered with a small group of independent monitors who are joining us to guide our work in preparing the papers for public release. The mission is to minimize any costs to individualsâ€™ privacy or the furtherance of other harms while ensuring the responsible disclosure of the greatest amount of information in the public interest.
As Gizmodo notes, there are many reasons to carefully review the documents before releasing them:
More than for privacy, the documents require extra review to ensure we arenâ€™t just handing groups of criminals and spies a roadmap to undermining the controls Facebook does have in place to detect propaganda aimed at spreading lies, hate, and fear. That would undermine any benefit the world stands to reap from this act of whistleblower justice.
The work is just beginning but weâ€™re eager to start releasing documents as as possible. The first batch will likely consist of documents that warrant the least amount of redactions, just to get the ball rolling.
This is all good news. But it’s a bit crazy that it’s Gizmodo doing all this work. Gizmodo wasn’t even a member of the original consortium and only joined after the first batch of stories went out. Also, Gizmodo is way smaller and with way fewer resources than many of the other members of the consortium, which includes the flush NY Times, the Washington Post, NBC, CNN, the Associated Press, Politico, Wired and more.
The fact that it took a month for any of the members, let alone one of the smaller ones, to actually decide to put together the effort to release the papers is a damning statement on how many members of the consortium see their role in the media to be a gatekeeper to information, rather than providing the public access to information.