acebook finally faced the perfect storm this week. Three brutal strikes that should, without a doubt, mark the beginning of the end for this $1 trillion dollar empire, that rakes in at least $40 billion per year in net profits. Shareholders of the company include many institutional investors, among them Vanguard and Blackrock. Of course the largest single shareholder is CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg, who holds 16.7% of outstanding shares. But also a whopping 58% of Facebook’s voting shares, giving him sole and complete control over the company.
Strike 1: On Sunday October 3, 2021, CBS 60 Minutes aired a segment with Facebook Whistleblower @FrancesHaugen, in which she detailed not only Facebook’s many abuses, but their knowledge of the abuses, and specific decisions they made to continue the abuses even after they became aware of the consequences.
Strike 2: On Monday October 4, 2021, Facebook’s DNS info was wiped off the internet, causing a 6 hour outage across all its applications including Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, destroying $47.3 billion in Facebook market cap, cutting off 2.8 billion users, and throwing global communication into chaos.
Strike 3: On Tuesday October 5, 2021, @FrancesHaugen testified in front of a Senate Committee hearing, filled with bipartisan outrage. Mark Zuckerberg released a petulant blog post denying any problems, and Facebook PR teams and lobbyists launched into intense damage control.
I’ve never been so personally horrified by a scandal. It confirmed many things I had already feared, but largely put out of my mind—as circumstances beyond my control. I’ve been on Facebook for about 15 years, and it’s the number one way I not only keep in touch with friends, but also conduct my social activism. Up until now, the equation still seemed to balance in favor of using the platform, in spite of its shortcomings.
But before I even had a chance to watch the 60 Minutes piece or the three hours of testimony, I sprang into action. I determined to begin my personal Facebook exit strategy or #fexit. I began by determining to move my social media presence largely over to my Twitter account. I immediately stopping my regular posting to Facebook, both on my personal page and The Radical Secular page. Now if I’m posting at all, it’s Twitter screenshots, and asking my friends to follow me over to Twitter.
Enough is enough.
Since I’ve written long Facebook posts for many years, I immediately looked for a Twitter thread composer, so that I could test out how that would work on a microblogging platform like Twitter. As it turned out, not too well, as the particular thread composer I chose didn’t use tweet numbering, and my tweets all posted chronologically backwards. But that’s OK. I’m just getting started at this. Below you can read my first big thread.
My First Big Twitter Thread
You can read the whole thing on a single page, here.
For many years, I’ve concentrated my social media presence on Facebook, due to its vastly improved engagement with my 3,000 personal followers, plus an additional 3,000 or so followers on @RadicalSecular page.
For those of you who may not know me well, The Radical Secular is a weekly podcast I began producing in June of 2020 with my partners @ChristopheDifo, @Joe_Occhipinti, and Drew Scott.
Twitter’s always been a poorer cousin of FB as a social network, for those of us who aren’t already household names. It’s slow work to build up a following. Twitter’s feed can’t compete with the immediate response from an FB profile, political page, or group.
Everyone you know is already on FB, and they know this. FB has worked hard to drive this relentless growth without regard to consequences. And that’s why it’s become a nation unto itself. A nation of 2.89 billion global users, ruled by one Mad King.
This strange not-so-new-anymore animal, got its start at Harvard in 2003 as “Facemash,” a rating system for the physical attractiveness of women. It has now become an unaccountable sociopolitical and media juggernaut that is remaking the world in its image.
That image is on a collision course with democracy. Revelations before Congress today, from whistleblower @FrancesHaugen have increased urgency for sweeping reforms to this technology behemoth, which may be too large for any government to decisively regulate.
Even the phrase “technology behemoth” doesn’t do this entity justice. Its reach is now so vast, and its cache of information on the world’s citizens so extensive, that it might be the most powerful organization on Earth.
The pen is mightier than the sword–is more than just an aphorism. The world’s keyboards are now typing out billions of FB messages every day. FB decides who sees, and does not see, all of it. That kind of absolute power, as we know, corrupts absolutely.
The direct impact of FB products such as Instagram on children is a concern, certainly. But it pales into insignificance when compared with the twofold threat FB poses, both to democracy, and to national security.
So let’s first take FB’s contribution to global authoritarianism: It’s no secret that governments / political campaigns have used FB to mount vast influence operations, amplifying fear and misinformation among voters to sway elections, and even to mount coups.
The US Jan 6, 2021 insurrection was as close to a coup as we’ve come since the Civil War. FB certainly played a passive role in organizing it. And, the 2016 election of Trump, it’s safe to say, would never have occurred without FB’s extensive cooperation.
FB is implicated in spreading misinformation in advance of Brexit, and the elections of Bolsonaro, Duterte, and possibly even Erdogan. Ironically, Erdogan is now calling for a heavy crackdown on the social network in Turkey.
Following its use to coordinate anti-government demonstrations, China banned FB outright in 2009. I don’t support anything about the Chinese government, but what did they know about the dangers of FB 12 years ago that the rest of the world missed?
I follow @dialectica6, who is a researcher & political activism strategist focused on disinformation and violent extremism studies. He always has interesting commentary on this battle. And this IS a battle. FB has unleashed the Kraken of global instability.
Let’s now examine the impact of FB on national security. If we could time-travel back to the 1990s, we’d find the US in a period of post-Cold War triumphalism, during which it imagined that it had no remaining adversaries. Hindsight shattered that notion. 😂
But imagine if we knew then what we know now. Would we have ever allowed anyone to build such a machine? It’s a transnational system of information control so pernicious, it includes comprehensive surveillance / information control for nearly every citizen.
In what universe would anyone have thought that was a good idea? In terms of its sheer authoritarian police-state audacity, it’s beyond the wildest fantasies of an old KGB/GRU man like Vladimir Putin. And we built him his fantasy machine. For free.
The book The Red Web details how after the fall of the Soviet Union, Putin stuffed the internet genie back in the bottle, reestablishing state control over the Russian internet. He also developed active measures for subversion abroad.
It’s a matter of record that foreign right-wing troll farms have sown incredible division and discord within the US, particularly since 2015. For pennies on the dollar of what a traditional influence campaign would cost, FB enabled this dastardly intervention.
Foreign actors didn’t have to directly boost Donald Trump. Their goal was to drive up engagement on controversial topics, to get Americans arguing with each other. Troll farms posed as both right and left. Boosting cynicism, was their only objective.
There’s strong evidence of not just governments taking advantage of this capacity, but also wealthy corporate actors. No-longer-shadowy PR firms offer disinfo and destabilization campaigns for a price.
At the center of this global storm, is one man with the power to stop all of it. One man holds the keys to the algorithm. He determines what goes viral, and what dies in obscurity. He determines the criteria for disabling bad actors. So who does he go after?
Human traffickers? Foreign agents? People who base their entire businesses on spreading toxic lies? False news? Violent extremists? No.
[Whistleblower’s SEC complaint: Facebook knew platform was used to “promote human trafficking and domestic servitude]
You judge an algorithm from its output. What is the output on FB? 2:1 right-wing content. A dominance of false information.
We know the algorithm does nothing to discourage the massive proliferation of stupid quizzes and data mining posts. Which can be easily scraped for extremely valuable information.
What happens to people who are fighting scams and false information? They get downranked. FB knows they threaten engagement. FB TOS bans mostly for violations of decorum. Yet racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic content runs rampant.
Six weeks ago, I noticed yet *another* unwelcome FB algorithm change. Having spent years hiding and weeding out right-wing content from my feed, I was seeing multiple posts a day from hard right influencers and politicians. It didn’t matter how many I hid.
They. Just. Kept. Coming. One post after another about GOD, the FLAG, and GUN RIGHTS, and every other form of coded racist language you can imagine. All pushing soft-QAnon, America First, White Christian Nationalist language. This is not a coincidence, or a conspiracy theory.
This is the FB algorithm working as intended. Because liberals and conservatives on FB have increasingly divided into tribes. We don’t want to see their shit, and they don’t want to see ours. That’s bad for engagement. #Zuck NEEDS US TO BE ARGUING.
And that’s really, really, really bad for America. The price is paid in lives. The #BigLie of election fraud drove the big lie of #antivax. And the antivax lie has definitely killed more than 100,000 Americans *by itself.* It’s an epic public health disaster.
I’ve been on FB most days for probably 15 years. And what’s my goal? To fight disinformation and false beliefs, whether religious or political. To build a better world through knowledge. I post on a wide variety of topics.
From energy / environment, to economics, to tax policy, to gun policy, to debunking religion and promoting rule of law and secularism. To smashing pieties on both the right and the left that are holding back the nation and the world.
Oh, yeah. And toxic positivity. I’m really really down on toxic positivity. And I’m in good company.
I post a lot of anti-racist, anti-sexist content. I post about futurism and getting rid of terrible ideas and traditions. And I post about hopeful things, too. My calling is to be a reformer and educator, since I was raised in a destructive religious cult.
Having had a front row seat to the terrible consequences of bad ideas for the first 30 years of my life (in the cult), I tend to get impatient, and downright salty sometimes. This has led me to run afoul of FB TOS five times, most recently a 30 day ban.
Yeah, I’m not asking anyone to feel sorry for me about any of that. FB gets to set its TOS however they want, and “rules are rules,” except when they’re not. And that’s why those bans are not just about me.
Because I happen to know terribly hateful bigots who have remained on FB with impunity, because they spew their bile in a way that lets them hide behind an illusion of decorum. The Lee Atwater trick. They don’t say n___, n___, n___, they just say “tax cuts.”
Everyone knows, (and knew) that tax cuts mean service cuts and that means hurting black people. And so now racists also get to say #MAGA, #AmericaFirst, #BackTheBlue, and #StopTheSteal, and it means the same thing. It’s still n___, n___, n___.
All those euphemisms mean that FB TOS are absolutely *useless* in stopping the spread of hate. Same nonsense when it comes to antivax. “We’re just asking questions.” Well, during a global pandemic, we don’t need questions. We need #compliance.
Public health efforts are really like PR. It’s always been a heavy lift to gain public cooperation for voluntary measures. And avoid heavy-handed mandates. And now FB represents an omnipresent and politicized *ANTI-PUBLIC-HEALTH CAMPAIGN.*
The right gets away with all that, but if a patriotic liberal who wants to save American lives correctly calls an antivaxxer “stupid,” THEY will get the ban. Not the murderous nutcase who’s convincing people not to be vaccinated.
Rush Limbaugh spewed hatred and bile on America’s airwaves for more than 30 years. Yet when I posted on the occasion of his death, “Rush Limbaugh, American Idiot, American Traitor, rest in shame!” That was declared a TOS violation.
Right wingers constantly posted the most vile racist memes *for years* about President Obama. They still attack every prominent woman, especially black women like Simone Biles as “unAmerican,” “weak” or “traitorous.” I’ve seen all those epithets used.
Following is another post that caught me a ban from FB. This is pure truth and pure patriotism. What red-blooded American wouldn’t say something like this?
“The white goons who stormed the US Capitol kept saying “this is our house, we built this house,” and they are dirty fucking liars! They didn’t build it, and they don’t own it. It belongs to the People under the Constitution. Not the mob. Never forget!”
FB has become nothing less than a full frontal assault on truth and democracy. Our nation is under serious attack. We can’t effectively respond to climate, or health, or even foreign assault. Because we’ve been divided and conquered.
We need to get control of the algorithm. It won’t be enough to “break up Facebook.” We’ll need a permanent independent oversight board that studies EXACTLY what the algorithm is up to.
That board should be granted the power by Congress to modify the algorithm when required by national security. It’s WAAAAAYYYY beyond free speech, or even intellectual property. It’s a vital national interest more important than even defending territory.
FB is certainly not operating in any kind of national interest. And so WE MUST. If we can’t somehow summon the political will to regulate this slobbering, rampaging beast, we need to figure out how to pull its plug.
What Can You Do?
A lot of people are heavily dependent on Facebook for both business and personal reasons. I understand that this won’t be an easy or quick transition. Despite all its malfeasance, Facebook has built an incredibly versatile platform. If it works for you, and you’re deeply embedded, you might have little choice in the short term. But what you must understand is this: No part of that platform is built with your best interests in mind. You may gain helpful utility and functionality, as a byproduct. But the purpose of the platform is something else entirely. I can’t and won’t speculate as to every nuance of Mark Zuckerberg’s motivations. But money and power are absolutely at the top of the list. He still might believe he is somehow doing good, but remember that it’s not motives that count, it’s outcomes. And by that metric, the entire legacy of Facebook has been disastrous.
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