Broken Promises by Accurat

Time and time again, Meta (nee Facebook) executives have promised to “do better” when it comes to content moderation. We worked with Tech Transparency Project—an initiative of non-profit, non-partisan watchdog group Campaign for Accountability— to create Broken Promises: an interactive work of data journalism intended to hold Meta representatives accountable for their assurances.

In 2019, Tech Transparency project contacted us with research from a deep–dive investigation into Facebook’s responses to public scrutiny. Working with data mined from news articles that reported on content violations and Facebook’s response to them (or lack thereof), we conceptualized, designed, and developed a narrative experience to showcase TTP’s powerful data and expose the extent to which Facebook has broken its promises.

In Broken Promises, we present findings as clearly and methodically as a mathematical proof. The experience begins with an explanatory brief. Text bubbles that recall a conversation in Facebook Chat provide background and methodology to contextualize the data visualization that follows. In the datavis, reports of violating content are represented as tiles, color–coded by the nature of the offense. They populate the screen in chronological order to show how the situation worsened from 2018–2021. “Voice Messages” from Zuckerberg—more soundbytes of apologies and promises to improve—play as the graphic takes shape. At the end of this sequence, the visual is a colorful mosaic that nevertheless calls to mind a glitch–filled screen, symbolic of a broken system. Each tile is clickable, allowing users to explore the myriad nature of offenses.

In the next section, we shift to focus on how Facebook handles content that violates its Community Standards. More visuals emerge to show how rarely the company takes action to protect its users. In comparison to the many tiles that previously populated the screen, tiles representing actions taken in response are few. We found that despite the company’s stated policy to scrub all offending from the platform, this happened in only 18% of reported cases.

Language—historically used by representatives to evade accountability—is also analyzed to expose its infuriatingly repetitive nature. Four cookie–cutter PR phrases are spotlighted and shown as lines in a timeline–esque graphic. In one instance, we see how representatives deployed a phrase upwards of 30 times over the course of three years.

All is wrapped into an interface designed to call to mind Facebook’s UI/UX. The effect is an uncanny representation that feels simultaneously familiar and foreign; friendly—at times, even beautiful—yet vaguely sinister. The scroll down format, meanwhile, is more than practical consideration. It establishes a top–down chain of accountability that ultimately links Facebook’s senior leadership with harmful acts that occur online and off.

Broken Promises ends with a call to action: “With Facebook unable or unwilling to clean up its platform, it’s time for regulators to step in.” Broken Promises arms journalists and policy makers with a powerful tool to achieve this.

  • Credits
    Pietro Guinea–Montalvo -- Project Leader
    Alessandro Zotta -- Data Visualization Designer
    Cesare Soldini -- Full Stack Developer
    Anna Gazza -- Data Visualization Designer
    Davide Grimoldi -- Experience Designer
    Gaia Lunardi -- Experience Designer
    Stefano Agresti -- Data Analyst
    Elizabeth Horkley -- Content, UI/UX Strategist
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