FRONTLINE Presents “The Facebook Dilemma” — Oct. 29 & 30 on PBS
Two-Night Documentary Offers U.S. Television’s Most In-Depth Investigation of Facebook’s Impact on Privacy and Democracy
The Facebook Dilemma
Mon., Oct. 29, 2018, at 9/8c and Tues., Oct. 30, 2018, at 10/9c on PBS & online
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The promise of Facebook was to create a more open and connected world. But from the company’s failure to protect millions of users’ data, to the proliferation of “fake news” and disinformation in the U.S. and across the world, mounting crises have raised the question: How has Facebook’s historic success as a social network brought about real-world harm?
Just days before the midterm elections, Monday, Oct. 29, and Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, on PBS, FRONTLINE presents The Facebook Dilemma — U.S. television’s most in-depth investigation of the powerful social media platform’s impact on privacy and democracy in the U.S. and around the world.
Drawing on dozens of original interviews and rare footage, this major, two-night television event investigates a series of warnings to Facebook as the company grew from Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room to a global empire.
“Being a whistleblower isn’t any fun, but I felt that I had a responsibility,” Sandy Parakilas, a former Facebook platforms operations manager, tells FRONTLINE. Parakilas says he raised red flags to Facebook executives more than five years ago about the risks that users’ personal data could be inappropriately obtained and misused, but said his warnings went unheeded: “I think there is a certain arrogance there that led to a lot of bad long-term decision making. The long-term ramifications of those decisions was not well thought through at all. And it’s got us to where we are right now.”
As The Facebook Dilemma reveals in riveting detail, Parakilas’ story is far from unique. In this two-night special, producers James Jacoby and Anya Bourg (War on the EPA) and Dana Priest, a Pulitzer-Prize winning Washington Post reporter and professor at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill School of Journalism, trace how the company failed to respond effectively to warnings from both inside and outside Facebook about everything from potential privacy violations, to “fake news,” to fomenting division and violence across the globe.
“We have been slow to really understand the ways in which Facebook might be used for bad things. We’ve been really focused on the good things,” Naomi Gleit, a senior executive and one of Facebook’s longest-serving employees, tells FRONTLINE.
FRONTLINE producers interviewed on-camera more than a dozen former and current Facebook employees for the film. The documentary finds that multiple warnings about the platform’s negative impact on privacy and democracy were eclipsed by the company’s relentless pursuit of growth — and its users’ data.
“Facebook systematically went from interconnecting people to essentially having a surveillance system of their whole lives,” venture capitalist and early Facebook investor Roger McNamee tells FRONTLINE.
The Facebook Dilemma describes how Facebook’s leaders developed a multi-billion dollar business model that mined its most valuable asset — the personal data of its users — and how the addition of Newsfeed in 2006 and the new “Like” button in 2009 turned the platform into a goldmine.
“That gave us a degree of constantly increasing understanding about people,” Mike Hoefflinger, Facebook’s former head of global business marketing, tells FRONTLINE. “And so for every person over time, Facebook is getting consistently more intelligent about things that are important to you and things that are not important to you.”
As the platform grew, the documentary finds, there were few limits on what content was being posted — and the company allocated insufficient resources to enforcing its guidelines: “We relied on what we thought were the public’s common sense and common decency to police the site,” Tim Sparapani, Facebook’s former director of public policy, tells FRONTLINE.
From how Russia weaponized Facebook to spread “fake news” in the Ukraine years before the term was popularized, to data breaches that would expose the accounts of millions of users, to Facebook’s role in disseminating misinformation in the runup to the 2016 presidential election, The Facebook Dilemma reveals how a platform initially aimed at uniting us has often instead divided us — and how Facebook has responded to challenges ranging from hate speech to election interference.
“I came into this job asking myself, how long is it gonna take us to solve this?” Tessa Lyons, who leads a team at Facebook that’s tackling the spread of misinformation around the world, tells FRONTLINE. “And the answer is, this isn’t a problem that you solve. It’s a problem that you contain.”
Facebook says it has taken aggressive steps ahead of the 2018 midterms, and that it will be doing real-time monitoring on election day aimed at finding material that sows distrust: “I think that, yes, I’m confident that we can do this here,” Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Facebook’s election integrity team, tells FRONTLINE.
As the midterms approach, this two-part special is a timely and eye-opening look at the warnings, denials and unintended consequences that have accompanied Facebook’s growth into both a global superpower — and a player in social movements and elections around the world.
The Facebook Dilemma premieres Monday, October 29, at 9/8c and Tuesday, October 30, at 10/9c on PBS and online at pbs.org/frontline.
The Facebook Dilemma is a FRONTLINE production with Left/Right Docs in association with NDR. The correspondent and director is James Jacoby. The writers and producers are Anya Bourg and James Jacoby. The reporters are James Jacoby, Anya Bourg and Dana Priest. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.
FRONTLINE, U.S. television’s longest running investigative documentary series, explores the issues of our times through powerful storytelling. FRONTLINE has won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 91 Emmy Awards and 20 Peabody Awards. Visit pbs.org/frontline and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr and Google+ to learn more. FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Abrams Foundation, the Park Foundation, the John and Helen Glessner Family Trust, Wyncote Foundation and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation.
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