New Year’s Eve 2019.
Hi friends. This is my final post on fb. 2.2 billion people, a third of humanity, log on across the planet every hour, I don’t think Zuck will miss me much. Nonetheless, 17 million Americans have left FB in the last two years because of disinformation and political manipulation. Mark Zuckerberg made an additional $27 billion last year alone; he won’t be changing his behaviors any time soon. He throws all that he does under the free speech/innovation bus. His modus operandi has always been to act first, apologize later. Literal early company motto: ‘Move fast and break things.’ Based on past behaviors and weak rhetoric, I don’t think he has the moral compass to steer a moral path. He doesn’t have the emotional or compassionate intelligence to consider the meaning of truth, the limits of free speech, and the origins of violence. Peter Thiel, a billionaire who sits on his board, is the guy who once wrote democracy was weakened when women received the right to vote. Good guy. Zuckerberg is now at the center of a full-fledged debate about the moral character of Silicon Valley and the conscience of its leaders.
In their opinion piece for January 1st, 2020, Idaho Mountain Express offered their New Year’s resolution for fb and Zuckerberg: “To take legal responsibility for what his platform has wrought by making it a publisher instead of a filthy rich exploiter of unsuspecting Americans.” Right on.
In 1915, Louis Brandeis, the reformer and future Supreme Court Justice, testified before a congressional committee about the dangers of corporations large enough that they could achieve a level of near-sovereignty “so powerful that the ordinary social and industrial forces existing are insufficient to cope with it.” He called this the “curse of bigness.” Tim Wu, a Columbia law-school professor and the author of a forthcoming book inspired by Brandeis’s phrase, said “Today, no sector exemplifies more clearly the threat of bigness to democracy than Big Tech.” He added, “When a concentrated private power has such control over what we see and hear, it has a power that rivals or exceeds that of elected government.”
A healthy market should produce competitors to Facebook that position themselves as ethical alternatives, collecting less data and seeking a smaller share of user attention. Like it or not, Zuckerberg is a gatekeeper. The era when Facebook could learn by doing, and fix the mistakes later, is over. The costs are too high, and idealism is not a defense against negligence.
I’ll miss my connections on this platform, my ol’ radio buds, sorority sisters, our community…I even reconnected with a dear junior high school friend from San Diego. We were 14 years old when we met. I will miss the ease in posting and sharing information. I remain hopeful someone will create a new social media site that will allow us to have a nonaddictive, advertising-free space that guards against foreign influence and disinformation, honoring privacy and our personal data. From Free Press: ‘We must have control over how our personal information is used, and prohibit its use to build systems that oppress, discriminate, disenfranchise and exacerbate segregation.’
I don’t Instagram or engage on WhatsApp…all Zuckerberg. I stay with twitter, where I follow various news organizations and journalists, because owner Jack Dorsey has committed to eliminating political ads and just recently launched a research project called Bluesky, researching decentralized technical standards for social media platforms making it easier to enforce rules against hate speech and other abuses.
The early hope for internet democracy has evaporated into a dystopian space that has weakened our democracy with dangerous disinformation, false political ads and foreign algorithms. We haven’t even begun to deal with ‘deep fake’ video yet, given media in general, the press specifically, have not found a way to authenticate what’s real and what isn’t. This virtual mess is only going to get worse.
In India, the largest market for Facebook’s WhatsApp service, hoaxes have triggered riots, lynchings, and fatal beatings. Local officials resorted to shutting down the Internet sixty-five times last year. In Libya, people took to Facebook to trade weapons, and armed groups relayed the locations of targets for artillery strikes. In Sri Lanka, after a Buddhist mob attacked Muslims this spring over a false rumor, a Presidential adviser said, “The germs are ours, but Facebook is the wind.”
Nowhere has the damage been starker than in Myanmar, where the Rohingya Muslim minority has been subject to brutal killings, gang rapes, and torture. In 2012, around one per cent of the country’s population had access to the Internet. Three years later, that figure had reached twenty-five per cent. Phones often came preloaded with the Facebook app, and Buddhist extremists seeking to inflame ethnic tensions with the Rohingya mastered the art of misinformation.
Beginning in 2013, a series of experts on Myanmar met with Facebook officials to warn them that it was fueling attacks on the genocide. David Madden, an entrepreneur based in Myanmar, delivered a presentation to officials at the Menlo Park headquarters, pointing out that the company was playing a role akin to that of the radio broadcasts that spread hatred during the
In 2011, the company asked the FEC [Federal Election Commission] for an exemption to rules requiring the source of funding for political ads to be disclosed. In filings, a Facebook lawyer argued that the agency “should not stand in the way of innovation.” Another default argument. It became a running joke among employees that Facebook could tilt an election just by choosing where to deploy its “I Voted” button.
The 2016 election was <supposed> to be good for Facebook. That January, fb COO and billionaire Sheryl Sandberg told investors that the election would be “a big deal in terms of ad spend,” comparable to the Super Bowl and the World Cup. According to Borrell Associates, a research and consulting firm, candidates and other political groups were on track to spend $1.4 billion online in the election, up ninefold from four years earlier.
During the campaign, Trump used Facebook to raise two hundred and eighty million dollars. Just days before the election, his team paid for a voter-suppression effort on the platform. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, it targeted three Democratic constituencies—“idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans”—sending them videos precisely tailored to discourage them from turning out for Clinton.
***Theresa Hong, the Trump campaign’s digital-content director, later told an interviewer, “Without Facebook we wouldn’t have won.”***
Facebook admits a pro-Trump media outlet used artificial intelligence to create fake people and push conspiracies.
In September of 2017, after Robert Mueller obtained a search warrant, Facebook agreed to give his office an inventory of ads linked to Russia and the details of who had paid for them. In October, Facebook disclosed that Russian operatives had published about eighty thousand posts, reaching a hundred and twenty-six million Americans.
Last year, Facebook spent $11.5 million on lobbying in Washington, ranking it between the American Bankers Association and General Dynamics among top spenders. Money…I mean, power and greed…along with behavior modification technology… pretty much defines how we landed here. FB is the epicenter of persuasive technology.
#2020 is going to be a ride. Buckle up. Stay vigilant. Be proactive consumers of news and information. Take the Pro-Truth pledge. And V O T E. It is imperative we remember our democracy is fragile and it fails without ‘we the people.’ Activist Greta Thunberg wrote today, “This coming decade humanity will decide it’s future. Let’s make it the best one we can. We have to do the impossible. So let’s get started.”
I’ll miss you, my fb friends. Happy New Year. Be safe. Only peace.
[In context of fb’s persuasive behavior modification techniques, my pages will stay active for about 30 days and then evaporate. If I log on anytime during those 30 days post depletion, the pages will re-activate, so I won’t be able to read any comments to my final fb post. Just email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, follow me on twitter, @DayleOhlau, or my website, daylescommunitycafe.com. ♡]