FACEBOOK IS AN EXISTENTIAL THREAT TO ALL OF US, OUR CHILDREN, AND OUR DEMOCRACY

Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.

This title is NOT an exaggeration: Facebook IS an existential threat to all of us, our children, and our democracy. I’ve been meaning to write a series of blog posts about Facebook and social media in general – and the harm they are doing – for almost a year. I recommend that you watch the award-winning documentary, “The Social Dilemma” (which is free on YouTube until October 31st). It’s produced by the Center for Humane Technology and was an eye-opener for me. (The documentary is 1 hour 34 minutes; there’s also a 2 ½ minute trailer.) The Center provides great resources for parents, teachers, and all of us on how to be intelligent users of social media – and how to protect our children from social media’s potential negative influences.

Facebook is finally getting the attention and scrutiny it has warranted for some time, with a former insider turned whistleblower being the catalyst. The whistleblower, Frances Haugen, had been a product manager at the Civic Integrity unit at Facebook. The unit was dissolved after the 2020 election. She subsequently left Facebook and has shared documents and her personal experiences with the Wall Street Journal, which has done a series of articles based on her information that are called The Facebook Files. She appeared on the 60 Minutes TV show on October 3, 2021. A blog post by Whitney Tilson, an investment professional, includes a series of links to segments of Haugen’s interview on 60 Minutes, links to the Wall Street Journal articles (which are behind a paywall unless you have a subscription or can access them through a library), and a letter from Tilson, as an investor, to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. [1]

I hope you’ve been following, at least at some level, the recent revelations that have laid bare the incredible influence Facebook has on us, including on what we believe and how we feel. We are both the product that Facebook is selling and the customers who are being influenced by the most sophisticated and manipulative marketing strategies and capabilities humankind has ever experienced. [2]

I provide here a very high-level overview of the information about Facebook that’s been uncovered and reported lately, while providing links to the detail. I have written previously about the intentional promotion of disinformation by Facebook, but that is just the tip of the iceberg, as current revelations are making starkly clear.

Facebook is single-handedly controlled by Mark Zuckerberg, who owns the majority of the controlling stock of the corporation. It seems clear that his commitment to generating profits (and increasing his wealth of $134 billion) outweighs everything else. Actions (e.g., likes and shares) and time on Facebook are money in his pocket and the recent revelations indicate that every time a decision was made where accuracy or any other social good was pitted against more clicks and money, Zuckerberg went for the money – despite knowing the  downsides. Facebook’s revenue has soared to $119 billion and the corporation’s market value is up to almost $1 trillion.

Facebook has internal studies and statistics that show, for example, that misinformation gets six times more clicks than factual news and that right-leaning sites produce more misinformation than any other sites. Facebook and Zuckerberg have been promoting misinformation and right-wing sites because more clicks mean more money in their pockets.

Facebook also knows how to elicit emotional responses and how its users respond to likes, shares, clicks on emoji buttons, and other actions on its site. It’s happy to use this knowledge to manipulate its users. Its internal research has concluded that its algorithms, which determine what to promote and show to whom, contribute to mental health and emotional problems among teens, particularly girls. However, it has done nothing to ameliorate this harm. [3]

Facebook seems to be immune to any sense of civic obligation to its roughly 3 billion users. It appears to have no qualms about helping undermine elections and democracies, the free and factual media, and accurate information about Covid and vaccination, which has literally deadly consequences. Zuckerberg has allowed terrorist recruitment, human trafficking, abuses by authoritarian governments, and promotion of hate, violence, genocide, and racism on Facebook. Is it any wonder that in the Russians’ efforts to disrupt U.S. elections and sow discord in our society that Facebook was their most frequently employed tool? [4] Facebook’s negative effects are probably even greater in countries other than the U.S., particularly in authoritarian ones, where the effects may be literally deadly for regime opponents.

Although the concerns that have been raised about Facebook are relevant to all of social media, Facebook is the dominant entity. Its algorithms govern the news we receive and what is promoted and prioritized, which shapes our society and affects our well-being and our democracy. Without government regulation Facebook and other social media will facilitate a race to the bottom driven by our basest proclivities and instincts. This will occur because there is greater profit in spurring anger, encouraging extremism, promoting false information, and triggering emotional responses than there is in creating a safe place for civil discourse and human interactions based on facts and healthy relationships. [5]

My next post will present some options for reining in Facebook, as well as social media in general.

[1]      Tilson, W., 10/5/21, “Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen; An open letter to Sheryl Sandberg,” (https://empirefinancialresearch.com/articles/facebook-whistleblower-frances-haugen-an-open-letter-to-sheryl-sandberg-come-work-with-enrique-barcelona-pictures)

[2]      Hubbell, R., 10/7/21, “Today’s edition: Nine months of silence,” (https://roberthubbell.substack.com/p/todays-edition-nine-months-of-silence)

[3]      Bauder, D., and Liedtke, M., 10/4/21, “Facebook fed Capitol riot, former manager alleges,” The Boston Globe from the Associate Press

[4]      Alterman, E., 10/1/21, “Altercation: The Facebook threat to democracy – and us all,” The American Prospect (https://prospect.org/politics/altercation-facebook-threat-to-democracy-and-us-all/)

[5]      Hubbell, R., 10/6/21, “Today’s edition: Progress, at last” (https://roberthubbell.substack.com/p/todays-edition-progress-at-last)

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