Facebook is a harmful presence in our lives. It’s not too late to unplug it | Jathan sadowski
Facebook is in perpetual crisis mode. For years, the company has faced waves of critical review of issues caused or exacerbated by the platform. Recent revelations have lengthened the indictment.
This list includes the massive data collection and invasion of privacy by Cambridge Analytica; accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election; rampant hate speech, inciting, inter alia, genocide in Myanmar; the viral spread of disinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines, with Joe Biden proclaiming about Facebook and other social media platforms: “They’re killing people.” Add to that Facebook Marketplace: With one billion users buying and selling goods, ProPublica has uncovered a growing number of scammers and fraudsters exploiting the site, with Facebook failing to “protect users”.
The latest wave of corporate-focused investigative reporting, meanwhile, comes from the Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files series. After pouring a cache of internal company documents, the WSJ reported that “Facebook researchers have identified the negative effects of the platform.” For example, the company downplayed findings that Instagram use can have significant impacts on adolescent mental health. During this time, he implemented strategies to attract more preteen users to Instagram. The platform’s algorithm is designed to foster greater user engagement in every way possible, including sowing discord and rewarding outrage. This issue was raised by the Facebook Integrity Team, which also proposed changes to the algorithm that would remove, rather than accelerate, such animosity among users. These solutions were rejected by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg because he prioritized growing engagement over other goals.
Additionally, the WSJ reported, Facebook employees “sounded the alarm bells” about drug cartels and human traffickers in developing countries using the platform, but the response from the business has been anemic. Perhaps because executives are once again reluctant to impede growth in these expanding markets.
This dovetails with the claims of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who said over the weekend, in an interview with 60 Minutes, “Facebook, time and time again, has shown it prefers profit over security. It also emerged that Haugen had filed at least eight complaints with the U.S. financial watchdog regarding Facebook’s approach to security. Haugen testified before the US Senate on Tuesday, substantiating his revelations. “I’m here today because I think Facebook’s products harm children, fuel division and weaken our democracy,” she said. “The company’s management knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won’t make the necessary changes because they put their astronomical profits ahead of people.” We shouldn’t be surprised that making money is the primary motivation in any business. But here we have further proof that Facebook is a particularly socially toxic platform.
Despite the executive team’s awareness of these serious issues, despite Congressional hearings and written promises to do better, despite Zuckerberg’s grandiose mission statements that change with tides of public pressure, Facebook continues to reject the great responsibility that comes with the great power and wealth he has accumulated.
Each wave builds on the previous one, hitting Facebook even more, enveloping it in scandal after scandal. In response, the company decided to go on the offensive – rather than really tackling any of its issues.
In August, Zuckerberg signed an initiative called Project Amplify, which aims to use Facebook’s news feed “to show people positive stories on the social network,” according to the New York Times. By pushing pro-Facebook stories, some of which are “written by the company,” she hopes to influence the way users perceive the platform. Facebook is no longer happy to let others use the news feed to spread disinformation and exert influence – it wants to use this tool for its own interests as well.
With the Amplify project underway, Facebook is building a serious defense against the WSJ’s Facebook files. In an article posted to Facebook Newsroom by Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, accusations of “deliberate misrepresentation” by WSJ reporters are made without providing specific details or corrections. Likewise, in an internal memo sent by Clegg to anticipate Haugen’s interview, Clegg dismissed any responsibility for Facebook to be “the main cause of polarization,” blamed the prevalence of extreme opinions about bad individual actors as ” a rogue uncle ”and provided speaking points for employees who might“ get questions from friends and family about these things ”.
It’s all spin, without substance. A skilled politician deflecting accusations while sowing doubt in the public mind without acknowledging or resolving the issues involved.
In another response to the WSJ, Facebook Instagram chief Adam Mosseri drew a strange analogy between social media and cars: in the world they don’t destroy, ”Mosseri said. “And I think social media is similar.” Mosseri can no longer deny that platforms like his are forces of destruction. His tactic is to convince us that a simple cost-benefit analysis is in his favor. It turns out that he sidesteps the fact that cars cause more than accidents; they are also responsible for the systemic social and environmental consequences at all levels. Of course, that’s exactly the kind of self-serving myopia we should expect from a tech framework under fire.
Beyond pushing aside critical reports, however, an initiative like Project Amplify must be understood as Facebook attempting to pave the way for its deeper penetration into every facet of our reality. After all, when Congress asked him last year why Facebook isn’t a monopoly, Zuckerberg said it was because he viewed all possible modes of “connecting people with other people” as a form of competition for his business. And if we know anything about Facebook, they’re very good at capturing market share and crushing competition no matter what it takes.
Facebook needs users to establish an intimate relationship with the platform. In quick succession this summer, he announced two new products that represent the next phase of the company’s planned existence – both his and ours.
The first is the “metaverse”. Named after an explicitly dystopian sci-fi idea, the Metaverse is, for now, billed as essentially a virtual reality office – accessible through virtual reality glasses like Facebook Oculus – where you go to see colleagues, attend to meetings and make presentations without having to leave home. Zuckerberg proclaimed that over the next five years, Facebook “will effectively shift from being a social media company to people who primarily consider us to be a metaverse company.”
Second, Ray-Ban Stories, Facebook’s attempt to succeed where Google Glass failed. Ray-Ban Stories are touted as a frictionless way to constantly stay connected to Facebook and Instagram without that pesky smartphone getting in the way. Now you can fulfill the dream of sharing every moment of your day with Facebook – and the valuable data that comes with it – without ever having to think about it.
Above all, access to both types of reality – virtual and augmented – is mediated by Facebook. Facebook executives would like you to believe that the business is now a permanent part of society. That a platform primarily designed to overload targeted ads has earned the right to negotiate not only our access to information or connection, but also our perception of reality. And Facebook’s aggressive attempts to combat skepticism, combined with its reality-shaping ambitions, show just how desperate it is to convince us to accept the social poison it peddles and ask for more.
Days before Facebook’s last congressional hearing – this time on Instagram’s mental impacts on teens – Mosseri announced that his team was suspending Instagram Kids, a service for under-13s, and developing “monitoring tools.” parental ”. It seems once again that they will only do the bare minimum when they are forced to. Speaking of this change in leadership during his Senate hearing, Haugen was skeptical: “I would be genuinely surprised if they didn’t continue working on Instagram Kids, and I would be amazed if in a year we weren’t having this conversation anymore. “
For Facebook, all this negative attention amounts to an image problem: bad publicity that can be thwarted with good propaganda. For the rest of us, this indicates that Facebook isn’t just having a problem; Facebook is the problem. Ultimately, a damning case multiplies against Facebook’s right to exist, let alone continue to enjoy unrestricted operation and expansion.
We must not forget that Facebook is still young. It was founded in 2004, but didn’t quite grow into the giant we know today, until it went public in 2012, buying Instagram for $ 1bn (£ 760m ) the same year, then acquiring WhatsApp for $ 19 billion two years later. . True to its original informal motto – “Move fast and break things” – Facebook wasted no time blazing a well-documented path of destruction.
When Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp went temporarily offline this week due to a technical glitch, we saw how reliant we have already become on these services for so many daily activities. It was a shock to suddenly be without them. The company would likely see this as proof that our lives are too closely tied to its services to ever disappear. But, as the company has proven time and time again, our interests and interests are rarely aligned. Rather, we should recognize that allowing a rapacious company to design and own critical infrastructure without any liability is the worst of all possible options.
If its executives are to compare social media to cars, then at the very least this dangerous technology needs to be subject to the same level of strict regulation and independent oversight as the auto industry. Otherwise, Facebook needs to be reminded that it is not too late for the public to unplug this social experiment that has gone awry. Right now, almost any alternative would be better.
Jathan Sadowski is an Associate Researcher at the Emerging Technologies Research Lab at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.