So far the reaction has been ho hum from the press and media, when it should have been a legal declaration of war in retaliation.
By Glynn Wilson –
After spending the past decade sucking much of the world into its universe like a black hole swallowing up surrounding stars, and convincing 2 billion people to be totally dependent on its platform for news, entertainment and just about everything else in life, now Facebook’s billionaire college dropout creator has decided to try to throw in the towel and pretend he is giving up on the fight for real news and effective democracy.
His latest statement on the subject was clearly co-written by his legal division as the beginning of an excuse he will make in court to skirt responsibility for the monster he has created and the damage it has wrought.
The statement is almost laughable, if it were not so tragic.
“…we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other,” he says, ignoring the fact that elections and other information about public affairs, our government and the future of democracy are somehow not as important as “TV shows” and “football,” the two examples he used to claim Facebook’s so-called “engagement” was more important than “news.”
“We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being,” he claims. But what could be more good for a citizen’s well-being than being informed about the important news of the day?
“…you’ll see less public content like posts from … media,” he says. “For example, there are many tight-knit communities around TV shows and sports teams.”
“Some news helps start conversations on important issues,” he admits. “But too often today, watching video, reading news or getting a page update is just a passive experience.”
A passive experience? What? That term used to be confined to watching television. So, what’s the problem for Facebook? People reading news from links on Facebook does not get FB enough likes, shares and comments per second? The beast demands your entire attention, only there won’t be anything of import, unless it concerns your naval? Is that it? When people are reading news, they are not making comments? Give them a few minutes.
“At its best, Facebook has always been about personal connections. By focusing on bringing people closer together — whether it’s with family and friends, or around important moments in the world — we can help make sure that Facebook is time well spent.”
So the most important moments in the world are not those big stories reported on by news outlets, engaged in by activists?
One of the first pieces out of the gate on this appeared on the website of the Atlantic monthly magazine. I totally disagree with its flippant conclusions, but there is some good stuff here.
Yes, Zuckerberg and his programmers “broke journalism,” according to the Atlantic, “by radically deflating the value of the digital advertising on which the livelihood of media now depends; he broke the reading habits of his users, the lab rats in his grand experiment, by constantly manipulating them and feeding them an endless stream of dreck to jack up their ‘engagement’ with his site; and in a way, he broke American democracy, by sitting on his hands as a foreign adversary exploited his platform and by creating the world’s most efficient vehicle for spreading political lies and agitprop. Now, with the announcement that he’s largely stripping the News Feed of news, he’s breaking his own site, too.”
According to Franklin Foert, “This radical overhaul of Facebook is a concession of defeat.
“At some point in Facebook’s rise — its march past the 2-billion-user mark (there are about 7 billion on the planet) — the realization dawned: Facebook is now the most powerful publisher in the business, the mother of all media gatekeepers. Initially, that realization dawned on everybody except apparently Facebook itself, perhaps a willed state of ignorance.
“The company described its product as a mere ‘tool,’ and protested that it played no role in organizing the news that it broadcasts, as if it weren’t imposing its values on the News Feed, as if it weren’t providing a sense of hierarchy to the mass of posts it splays. That description, which trumpeted Facebook’s passivity and neutrality, could never really sustain close scrutiny. And after the election of Donald Trump, Facebook has received no end of that.”
But there is way more to it than that.
Check out the conclussions of Roger McNamee, one of the first tech investors in Facebook who now explains why the social media platform and the search engine business models are such a threat to democracy as they work now.
“The European Union challenged Google’s shopping price comparison engine on antitrust grounds, citing unfair use of Google’s search and AdWords data. The harm was clear: most of Google’s European competitors in the category suffered crippling losses. The most successful survivor lost 80 percent of its market share in one year. The EU won a record $2.7 billion judgment—which Google is appealing. Google investors shrugged at the judgment, and, as far as I can tell, the company has not altered its behavior. The largest antitrust fine in EU history bounced off Google like a spitball off a battleship.”
The story is one that “reads like the plot of a sci-fi novel: a technology celebrated for bringing people together is exploited by a hostile power to drive people apart, undermine democracy, and create misery. This is precisely what happened in the United States during the 2016 election.”
So Much for Improving Democracy on the Web
In the early days of the Internet, those of us involved in experimenting with the new technology by figuring out what we could publish on it and how, we had such high hopes for the “democratizing” influence of the web by allowing us to publish more and inform people better without having to rely on the hierarchy of newspaper bureaucracies or the limited time constraints of television news. It has worked to some extent, or it was working, until Facebook came along and gobbled up people’s attention. Yet we were able to continue to reach out to people through the social networking interface and even expand our own audiences by using it.
After the disaster of the election of 2016, Zuckerberg made some comments indicating he and his army of programmers were working to try to get a grip on how their platform was highjacked and used to undermine our democracy. But apparently they have now concluded that deciphering what “fake news” is must be impossible for programmers, who don’t know shit about how to determine what real news looks like. That should not and does not come as a shock or a surprise to those of us who know it takes education and experience and a human mind to know the difference. You can’t do it with zeroes and ones. Clearly Google’s attempts to determine what news is with its search engine technology is not the answer either. Capitalism has taken over search as well as social media.
As I said in a recent story: “Trying to find what you are looking for with a search engine like Google these days is like trying to find a fish worth eating in a sea filled with garbage, plastic litter and nuclear waste.”
Clearly Facebook was manipulated with dark money ads and did its audience a major disservice during the election. There are numerous timelines out there on the web proving this. Here are a few.
The New York Times: The Fake Americans Russia Created to Influence the Election
The Guardian: How Russia used social media to divide Americans
There’s even academic research backing all this up. See the Alliance for Securing Democracy and Jonathan Albright of Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, who concludes that on Facebook alone, Russia-linked imposters had hundreds of millions of interactions with potential voters who believed they were interacting with fellow Americans.
Google even admits it was compromised, but the programmers there seemed befuddled as to what they can do about it.
Democracy is NOT Capitalism
As long as we allow politicians and programmers and even the mainstream media to define democracy as capitalism, we will continue to have this problem. Everything we do cannot just be about the money, about the profit margin. Donald Trump apparently believed his corrupt business sense could fix the American government. Clearly that is not working. Government should run more like a not for profit organization than a business concerned about the quarterly bottom line.
When we finally figure that out and the people demand this, we might make some progress.
As for Facebook, or Twitter, or Google, if they are going to be part of the problem and not part of the solution, perhaps we can get the courts involved. I am willing to be named as a plaintiff in and lead a class action lawsuit against Facebook to see if we can change Zuckerberg’s mind — if we can find a law firm willing to take the case.
It might be possible to get people interested in news and activism to engage in a mass exodus from Facebook and switch to Twitter for news. Much of the political class has moved to that platform anyway, including the president. If the numbers on Facebook start dropping fast enough, perhaps Zuckerberg’s stock holders might convince him to bring some real journalists into the room and change his mind. If faced with a massive lawsuit by media companies harmed by his policies, that might also change his mind.
If not, we should all declare war on Facebook and stop using it.
For now, I will continue to share my news links on the platform — and document every time they call those links spam. Real news is NOT fucking spam. Your cat pictures and Facebook’s ads are spam. I don’t want that crap on my news feed.
Zuckerberg and Facebook made billions of dollars by sucking us all into its universe. Clearly this product damaged our democracy. Now it wants us to concentrate on TV shows and football? Count me out. I will see you in court.
© 2018, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.