Facebook is a problem. So is Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s founder and CEO. It’s becoming clearer by the day that the way the company seemed to be greasing the skids for white supremacy isn’t about the nobility of freedom of expression. Zuckerberg has been having secret meetings with conservative pundits and leaders. Facebook News — the site’s new publishing partnership — is of particular concern. Facebook News will pay to republish reporting from regional and national newspapers. On its face, it seems like good news. Publishers will get paid significant sums without having to add much workload. Struggling regional newspapers need the infusion of cash. The inclusion of Breitbart as a trusted partner in the project is the fly in the ointment. Steve Bannon, one of the co-founders of Breitbart, has openly described it as a platform for white nationalism. Reporting on the site has also been inaccurate and poorly sourced. Breitbart is a naked right-wing propaganda outlet. Why is Facebook presenting it as a source for trusted journalism?
Facebook has been integral to the disintegration of public discourse internationally. It’s the new Fox News, but it’s even more powerful. It’s available in nearly every country and widely trafficked. Heavy use of the site in certain areas has been correlated to increases in right-wing violence. It would be easy for Facebook to get rid of most of the neo-Nazi and similar content. Germany outlaws Nazi propaganda and a wide range of hate speech. The filters have already been designed, tested, and implemented. A choice is being made.
I used to think what’s happening at Facebook was just about money. Now, I think it’s more sinister than that. I mean it when I say Facebook is like Fox News. There’s a reason Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s COO, hired a Republican opposition-research firm to deal with some of the company’s PR woes. Key figures advising Facebook have reputations for being Republican hatchet men that stretch back to the infamous “Brooks Brothers Riot” during the Florida vote recount of the 2000 American presidential election. There is an alignment of values in Facebook’s boardrooms that are only partially explained by grasping for as much money as possible. A right-wing point of view seems to have been adopted at the highest level of the company. Facebook’s machinery is being guided by people who want to present white nationalist propaganda as valid news. The danger of the scope of the damage this may cause can’t be overstated. There has never been a propaganda operation of this scale in human history. Facebook is dangerous and shouldn’t exist as it’s currently constructed. What are we going to do about it, though?
Whenever these discussions arise, one of the solutions presented is for us all to #DeleteFacebook. Many of the people making this argument vociferously remain active on Instagram and WhatsApp, both of which are owned by Facebook and pose some of the same threats. In some countries, Facebook is so important for communication that it’s almost the whole internet. The company and its services have reached scale. Globally. Too many people have bought in. Too many people rely on it. Only governments can deal with this now. The company has to be broken up and regulated.
On a personal note, I have a personal Facebook account that I use quadrennially to communicate with Jamaican friends and family around the world during the track and field portion of the Olympics. It has never been a major part of my life, and deleting it wouldn’t be a particular hardship for me. A closer look at the stats on my most-read Medium article blew my hair back about the role the platform was playing in my life anyway. The piece has been shared over 105,000 times on Facebook compared to only 8,000 times on Twitter.
A lot of the smug pronouncements to #DeleteFacebook are being made on Twitter, another platform with a notorious neo-Nazi problem. YouTube is a breeding ground for radicalization that may be even more dangerous than Facebook, because young people are being targeted effectively and indoctrinated. This all got too big too quickly, and right-wing propagandists keep beating everyone to the punch, because they go where the eyeballs are. They know they need a new Fox News, and they’re building even more effective and virulent iterations on these platforms. #DeleteFacebook isn’t an effective counter to that strategy.
Originally posted on my Patreon.