After a congressional hearing and a severe dressing down over its near treasonous relationship with Cambridge Analytica and fake campaign ads, Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have proved they learned nothing.
Opinion by Solomon Smith, Managing Editor
“I’ve gained no wisdom, no insight, no mellowing. I would make all the same mistakes again, today,” wrote Woody Allen, but it could just have easily been Mark Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg sat sweating in an uncomfortable chair reaching for answers to the House representatives’ questions in October. The inquiry started with his new cryptocurrency but shifted toward the 2016 elections. Congress wanted to know if he would ever take responsibility for his company’s trashing of American democracy to turn a profit. He made it clear he would not. The Facebook founder told congressional leaders the only types of ads they remove would include those that would result in an “imminent risk of harm,” or “voter or census suppression” otherwise most other political ads, false and misleading, will “probably remain.”
The terrible fact is that Facebook, one of the largest social platforms in existence, does not care about American democracy; they care about money. As social media gains its place in the American zeitgeist monetizing that power has become more important. Facebook has been willing to sell the American people anything, including fake news, broad public access for hate groups, and various other places for the worst of America to gather, as long as they can profit from it.
Even after the revelations of the 2016 presidential election where it was discovered that Facebook was an integral part of Russian interference, Zuckerberg eschews democracy for profit. This is not Zuckerberg’s first appearance before congress because of his company’s irresponsible behavior. The dirty footprints of Russian trolls interfering in the American presidential race are all over Facebook. The House Intelligence Committee posted the evidence on their website, 3,500 misleading ads, according to Vox.
With a new platform comes a new convention, and where television or radio may worry about the legacy it leaves and the responsibility it has to its audience, Facebook passes that responsibility off onto the consumer. That future is a permanent part of the American landscape. Today many individuals look only to Facebook for their news. According to social media today.com there are 2.38 billion users on Facebook today. A 2017 study by the Pew Research Center points out that about 67 percent of Facebook’s users get their news from the site. Facebook’s policies and fact checkers are anemic, at best, and people are taking advantage of their intentionally broken system. Facebook knows this.
It does not have to be this way. Only a few days ago Twitter (also notoriously bad at policing itself) announced that it would end all political ads this month.
“We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” tweeted Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter.
The new policy does not keep Trump or his acolytes from lying on their own tweets (free speech affords them that right) but it does help prevent the spread of intentionally misleading information from political officials. This effort is a major change to Twitter’s policy and a step in the right direction.
We cannot allow governments to regulate the free speech of everyday citizens on private platforms. It is a difficult place for the country to be and one that is not going to get any easier any time soon. The country can continue to put pressure on leaders and make them accountable for the product. The one definite antidote to all this is something that has become rarer and rarer — well produced news. Lies are eclipsed by inevitable immutable truth. Yes, Facebook was lazy and irresponsible but so were its users.
The users are the ones with the real power and those that demand earnest change, must be prepared to take their support for the platform elsewhere. It would not be the first time that something that was so integrated into the lives of Americans was no longer welcome; cigarettes, Blackberrys, MySpace and other society changing items often disappear, and though people may feel Facebook is indispensable there is always something waiting to replace them.