Facebook’s monstrous empire | The week
Facebook is at the center of another journalistic hurricane. The Wall Street Journal got a wealth of internal Facebook docs and used them for a series of articles on how wealthy celebrities manage to break corporate rules with impunity (including posting apparent revenge porn), how Instagram has created an epidemic of mental health issues among young girls, how drug cartels and human traffickers have openly used Facebook to run their operations, how company staff know full well that its algorithm is fueling hatred and extremism, and how corporate systems are so toxic and broken that even Mark Zuckerberg himself couldn’t use it effectively to promote vaccination.
This report proves without a doubt that Facebook is a threat that cannot be reformed from within. All of the root causes of these problems are directly produced by the way the business is designed and operated. The Facebook empire must be dismantled and its pieces strictly regulated.
The Newsfeed algorithm, which has been redesigned many times to get users to spend more time on Facebook, is a major source of problems. In 2017, the company envisioned a long-term decline in use in wealthy countries and tried various strategies to reverse the trend. Turns out the easiest way to do this is to reward inflammatory content, incite anger and hostility, and encourage fights in the comments section. It has worked to retain users, but at the cost of sowing bitterness, division, paranoia and extremism around the world. Political parties from Poland to Spain to Latin America have complained to Facebook that the changes incite polarization and extremism, the Newspaper reports.
Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) has a similar problem. The basic idea of this platform is to watch glamorous people post carefully composed and edited pictures about the quality of their life. Sadly, this has a downside: it tends to mean that ordinary people who don’t have plastic surgeons, a full-time makeup crew, a private jet, and the ability to spend six hours a day jogging. exercise feel bad about their bodies – especially young girls, who were already facing heavy social pressure to conform to a beauty standard that was deliberately impossible even before social media arrived. Indeed, the Newspaper reports that Facebook has known for years that Instagram mass-produced anxiety, depression and eating disorders among teenage girls who used it, and did nothing about it.
This is because giving teenagers eating disorders is very profitable. As Casey Johnston writes, “These companies know it is addicting to trick people into believing that somewhere in their application there is a solution to feeling inferior and incomplete. The influencer who makes you feel not pretty enough, who also seems to have the key to become pretty enough? It’s an Instagram candy. An Instagram employee admitted this on a corporate forum. “Isn’t that what IG is mainly?” [looking] to the (very photogenic) life of the top 0.1%? Isn’t that why teens are on the platform? “
Another cause of problems is Facebook’s core business model. He makes money from scale – he can serve ads to billions of people, but mostly through automated computer systems and user-generated content, and therefore only has a hand- relatively small work. The reason he made tens of billions of dollars in profits, making Mark Zuckerberg the fifth richest person in the world, is that his company does not employ even a tiny fraction of the workers that would be needed to properly moderate the economy. Colossal fire hose of content on the platform. This is probably not even possible with the revenue from Facebook.
Finally (and related) is the size of Facebook. The Newspaper reports that criminals of all kinds have openly used his services. A grim example came from a drug cartel’s Instagram account, which posted a “video of a person with a gold pistol shooting a young man in the head as blood spurts from his neck. The next post is a photo of a beaten man tied to a chair; the next one is a trash bag full of severed hands… The page, along with other Instagram and Facebook pages advertising the cartel, has been active for at least five months before it was deleted. ”The reason this was not deleted quickly is that Facebook apparently wouldn’t hire a lot of people who speak languages other than English, and apparently doesn’t care not poor countries because they have little capacity to make a fuss. “Facebook treats damage in developing countries as ‘just the cost of doing business’ in those places, said Brian Boland, a former vice president of Facebook “, writes the Newspaper’s Justin Scheck, Newley Purnell and Jeff Horwitz.
Likewise, the Newspaper reports that Zuckerberg sincerely tried to encourage Facebook users to get vaccinated, but he was easily defeated by a swarm of vaccine maniacs who knew how to exploit company systems better than he did. “Even when he set a goal, the CEO couldn’t run the platform the way he wanted,” write Sam Schechner, Jeff Horwitz and Emily Glazer. Instead, Facebook was overrun with anti-vaccine cries, and the company played ineffectively against them instead of encouraging vaccination.
Over and over, it’s the same story. Facebook obsessively focuses on ways to get people to spend more time on its services so that it can sell more ads and earn more money, and it basically doesn’t care at all when these strategies dissolve the social fabric or fuel genocide. Throughout the Newspaper articles, it is clear that the company’s brass are much more concerned with avoiding negative publicity and appearing be concerned with these problems rather than doing anything to solve them, as this will adversely affect its results.
So what to do?
First, break the Facebook empire. Give it away Instagram, Whatsapp and Oculus. This probably won’t accomplish much on its own, given that every individual company would still face the same incentives, but it would reduce the wealth and power of Facebook executives and reduce a company’s ability to control much. of Internet space by coordinating its systems.
Second, regulate social media businesses. I have already argued that repealing section 230 would be a good step. This would make large companies like Facebook responsible for the content posted on its platform, and therefore force them to moderate heavily. Most likely, the big platforms would become very cautious about what they allow to be published, such as broadcast television networks. Controversial political discussions would revert to smaller places that could afford to pay moderation teams or recruit volunteers to do so, like the forums of yesteryear or Reddit today.
We could take other measures, for example prohibiting targeted advertising and creating a right to privacy online. Turning half the internet into a panopticon surveillance machine so Silicon Valley can sell personalized ads is wrong even if Facebook wasn’t such a monstrous business.
There are undoubtedly many ways to regulate Facebook and force it to stop spitting social poison into the collective commons. We just have to understand that this will never, ever happen if the business is left on its own.