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Tech Transparency Project's Broken Promises

2022 Tech Transparency Project | Non–profit Media

Tech Transparency Project's Broken Promises aims to hold executives at Meta accountable for their assurances to "do better." The piece sets out to prove that these sound bytes—and essentially, Facebook’s entire PR strategy—amount to Broken Promises. Researchers at TTP contacted Accurat to visualize their findings, to create an engaging work of data journalism.

Challenge

From raw data, craft a compelling narrative that brings to light a matter of public interest.

Solution

An interactive work of data journalism that leverages evocative visuals and innovative UI/UX for maximal impact.

Services

Data visualization & UI design; Front–end development

Deliverables

Web Interactive

Background & Process

Tech Transparency Project is a research initiative of Campaign for Accountability, a non-profit, nonpartisan watchdog organization that uses research, litigation and aggressive communications to expose corruption within the highest levels of public and private office.

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. 

Outcome

In Broken Promises, we present findings clearly and methodically, like a mathematical proof.

Following an intro, 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. 

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. 

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