Is Facebook Making Us More Polarized or Not?

Happy Tuesday! As we noted last week, Trader Joe’s recalled two types of cookies over concerns that they contained rocks. This week, the grocery store announced a recall of its falafel … over concerns it contains rocks.

Might be time to break up with their wholesaler, who we can only assume is one of Charlie Brown’s neighbors.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Republican-led House Judiciary, Oversight, and Ways and Means committees launched inquiries into Hunter Biden’s plea deal Monday, sending a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland scrutinizing portions of the agreement and questioning whether the Justice Department investigation into Biden is still ongoing. Separately, Devon Archer—an ex-business associate of Hunter’s—testified before the Oversight Committee Monday in a closed session probing the business dealings of the president’s son. According to lawmakers present at the briefing, Archer told the committee that Hunter would take calls from his father during business meetings and sometimes put him on speakerphone, but the elder Biden never discussed business and mostly engaged in casual conversation. He said Hunter sold “the illusion of access” to his father.
  • A Russian missile strike on a residential building in Kryvyi Rih—a city in central Ukraine distant from the frontlines—killed six people including a 10-year-old girl and injured 75. Two Ukrainian drones struck office buildings in Moscow over the weekend as attacks reaching into Russia have increased in recent weeks. “Gradually, the war is returning to the territory of Russia, to its symbolic centers and military bases, and this is an inevitable, natural, and absolutely fair process,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday.
  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced Monday that it would no longer consider race in its admissions and hiring processes—barring the use of application essays or other methods for indirectly taking race into account. The school’s board of trustees cited the Supreme Court decision last month in Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina which declared the school’s admissions process unconstitutional.
  • The Catholic Diocese of Syracuse in upstate New York has reached a settlement over more than 400 abuse claims filed by 387 people, agreeing to pay the victims $100 million. Notably, the money will not be paid out by insurance companies that cover the diocese but the diocese itself and its parishes.
  • After detaining the country’s president last week, members of Niger’s presidential guard arrested several high-ranking government officials Monday including oil and mining ministers. The new junta arrested the ministers of defense, transport, and interior last week and on Monday captured the head of President Mohamed Bazoum’s Democracy and Socialism party and the son of Niger’s former president.
  • The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a political rally in northwestern Pakistan Monday. The attack left at least 54 people dead and nearly 200 injured at an event hosted by a pro-Taliban party.
  • Building on legislation passed late last year, President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Friday implementing a major overhaul of how the Uniform Code of Military Justice handles cases of sexual assault, rape, and murder. Rather than leaving prosecutorial decisions to individual military commanders, the change removes military commanders’ power to decide whether to prosecute charges and transfers that power to special independent prosecutors. The order follows congressional action in 2021 directing the president to finalize the changes before the end of 2023.
  • The Defense Department announced Monday that President Joe Biden had decided to keep the U.S. Space Command headquarters in Colorado, reversing a Trump administration move that would’ve moved the facility—which has been in Colorado on a temporary basis—to Alabama. A Pentagon spokesman said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, and U.S. Space Command chief Gen. James Dickinson all backed Biden’s decision to remain in Colorado, but some Air Force officials reportedly saw Alabama as a preferable option.
  • Paul Reubens, an actor and creator of the comedic Pee-wee Herman character, died on Sunday at the age of 70 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Tweaking the Algorithm

Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook account is seen on a mobile phone screen. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook account is seen on a mobile phone screen. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Even when your own company funds research and company researchers help produce it, it’s hard to avoid over-interpreting the results—just ask Meta President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg, who had to tone down his summary of research findings from four new papers about Facebook’s impact on polarization ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

His blog post about the research first offered a sweeping victory lap—“there is little evidence that social media causes harmful ‘affective’ polarization or has any meaningful impact on key political attitudes”—before being updated to more narrowly declare that “there is little evidence that key features of Meta’s platforms alone cause harmful ‘affective’ polarization.”

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