Facebook’s Top 6 most controversial moments in its 15-year history

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Facebook first launched on February 4, 2004 as a social network known as TheFacebook, initially aimed at students at Harvard College
. Since then it has expanded rapidly, attracting a large number of high-profile controversies along the way.

Despite this controversy, the social networking giant has gone from strength to strength financially, reporting strong results in its latest quarter, with revenue up 30% to 16.9 billion dollars (£12.8 billion) and a 61% increase in profits, to 6.8 billion dollars (£5.1 billion).

Here are just some of the controversies Facebook has withstood in its time:

1. Cambridge Analytica

The Cambridge Analytica scandal was one of the biggest controversies to hit Facebook, after it emerged that the political consultancy firm had harvested data from 87 million users in 2014.

Facebook’s settings at the time allowed app developers to access the personal data of not just the people who used their app, but of all of their friends as well.

2. Discriminatory ad options

In 2018, Facebook said it was making changes to the way its advertisers can target users, following allegations that it was being used by some businesses to discriminate.

A complaint was filed against the social network in the US for allowing landlords and home sellers in the US to exclude certain ethnicities and religions from seeing the adverts, which breaches the country’s Fair Housing Act.

Facebook responded by removing more than 5,000 advertising options that were open to misuse.

Facebook
Facebook launched on February 4, 2004 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

3. Fake news

Like many online platforms, Facebook has been hit with fake news issues.

The social network has been criticised for its handling of the spread of misinformation, with bad actors targeting Facebook largely to distribute political messages, particularly around crucial elections.

In response, Facebook has carried out a number of initiatives to combat fake news. Earlier this year, it launched a UK arm to its international fact-checking effort, using Full Fact, a fact-checking charity founded in 2010, to review stories, images and videos which have been flagged by users and rate them based on their accuracy.

4. Zuckerberg on not removing Holocaust deniers

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg caused controversy when he said Facebook would not remove content around Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories because those posting may not be “intentionally getting it wrong”.

The social network boss, who is Jewish, said that while he found subjects such as Holocaust denial “deeply offensive”, Facebook should not remove it because it is difficult to establish the intent of such comments.

Mr Zuckerberg sought to clarify his remarks following the interview with Recode, saying that he “absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that”.

5. Data breach

A data breach which compromised the personal information of 30 million users was revealed in September 2018.

The issue was the result of a vulnerability in Facebook’s code that impacted “View As”, a feature that lets people see what their own profile looks like to someone else.

Martin Lewis announcement
VP of Facebook in Northern Europe Steve Hatch and Money Saving Expert’s Martin Lewis during a joint press conference at the Facebook headquarters in London (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

6. Scam ads

Facebook has also been in hot water over scam ads, with consumer champion Martin Lewis launching a campaign lawsuit in response to a raft of scam ads featuring his picture.

In January, Mr Lewis dropped the case, after the social network agreed to donate £3 million to Citizens Advice and set up a new UK scam advert prevention project.

The initiative includes a specialist scam adverts reporting tool on the social network and the donation to the new Citizens Advice Scams Action (CASA), which will launch in May and be used to support the victims of scam advertising and offer education on spotting them.

Chris Price
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