In the past few years, social media companies have been generating headlines with a new type of report released alongside their quarterly earnings — one about transparency. Facebook’s latest transparency reports released in mid-November even garnered headlines in prominent papers such as The Washington Post.
Transparency reports are common for many industries. Google’s transparency report page lists other companies, universities or foundations (such as Wikimedia) that produce these documents. Transparency reporting is a worthy initiative and an important step in changing the relationship between companies, governments and civil society. But we should be aware that transparency reporting’s reliance on statistics can create problematic incentives and unforeseen consequences.