Crush Facebook

Facebook is toxic. And its leaders no longer give a crap about even appearing to be otherwise.

The reporting about Facebook this month has been brutal and disturbing. Here’s how the Wall Street Journal describes its “Facebook Files,” series, based on internal Facebook documents:

Facebook Inc. knows, in acute detail, that its platforms are riddled with flaws that cause harm, often in ways only the company fully understands. That is the central finding of a Wall Street Journal series, based on a review of internal Facebook documents, including research reports, online employee discussions and drafts of presentations to senior management.

Time and again, the documents show, Facebook’s researchers have identified the platform’s ill effects. Time and again, despite congressional hearings, its own pledges and numerous media exposés, the company didn’t fix them. The documents offer perhaps the clearest picture thus far of how broadly Facebook’s problems are known inside the company, up to the chief executive himself.

In separate articles, the Journal showed that:

The company is under attack from investigative journalists with access to leaked documents. In the past, Facebook would have at least paid lip service to the idea that it was addressing the problem. But now, it is apparently ready to embrace its role as a vector to spread the worst ills of society. An article in the New York Times reveals how Facebook will now use its own platform to spread feel-good stories about itself, an effort called “Project Amplify.”

Project Amplify punctuated a series of decisions that Facebook has made this year to aggressively reshape its image. Since that January meeting, the company has begun a multipronged effort to change its narrative by distancing Mr. Zuckerberg from scandals, reducing outsiders’ access to internal data, burying a potentially negative report about its content and increasing its own advertising to showcase its brand.

The moves amount to a broad shift in strategy. For years, Facebook confronted crisis after crisis over privacymisinformation and hate speech on its platform by publicly apologizing. Mr. Zuckerberg personally took responsibility for Russian interference on the site during the 2016 presidential election and has loudly stood up for free speech online. Facebook also promised transparency into the way that it operated.

But the drumbeat of criticism on issues as varied as racist speech and vaccine misinformation has not relented. Disgruntled Facebook employees have added to the furor by speaking out against their employer and leaking internal documents. Last week, The Wall Street Journal published articles based on such documents that showed Facebook knew about many of the harms it was causing.

So Facebook executives, concluding that their methods had done little to quell criticism or win supporters, decided early this year to go on the offensive, said six current and former employees, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisal.

The company is no longer apologizing for its role in spreading lies, hate, conflict, and crime. It has also cut off access to data that researchers were using to measure how negative content spreads online. Facebook is circling the wagons. It no longer even wants to appear to give a crap about the effect of its algorithms on society.

In an epic series of tweets, the author and activist Cory Doctorow skewered the company and its effects on journalism and society.

Crush Facebook

Here’s my takeaway.

Facebook is one of the most evil companies on the planet. It creates the conditions to make the world meaner, worse, less safe, and more laden with conflict, and then does the absolute minimum to deal with the backlash.

Facebook will not change. Change is hard. It’s a lot easier to deal with these challenges through lobbying, negotiating, and spin, than to fix what is essentially unfixable — an algorithm that amplifies the worst of society.

In the past I called for regulating Facebook. That time has passed.

I now call on the US, EU, and any other government to crush Facebook.

Break it up into pieces.

Require it to open its data to regulators and academics for study.

Create onerous regulations that will be expensive to address and will cripple the company’s business model.

I don’t care so much what the justification is. I don’t care in much detail what the implementation is. It’s time to push back. Facebook can no longer keep doing what it is doing — it’s bad for the world, and it must stop.

Share this on Facebook

I’m not quitting Facebook. My quitting would make no difference.

But I am curious what will happen with this piece.

I’m going to ask you right now to share this article on Facebook. I’m curious to see if it actually appears on the news feed of my friends, or if it somehow gets less visibility than it should.

If you’re on Facebook, post a link to this article where your friends will see it. Then comment here and let me know. I’ll be watching.

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  1. Just listened to Terry Gross’s show Fresh Air on NPR this afternoon, on exactly this topic – she was interviewing the author of the WSJ series. Quite the (sickening) revelation.

  2. I rarely post a public post, but I did share this that way. I don’t understand why the government allows them to exist the way that they do. Fresh Air’s show was distressing to learn how much more evil it is than I knew.

  3. Journalism blames Facebook for problems that Journalism created all on their own. Journalism needs to remove the planks from their own eyes before trying to remove Facebook’s splinters.

  4. The Norwegian Data Protection Agency just announced they won’t use facebook due to a «high risk to the rigths and liberties» of the population.

    At least one other gov agency has announced they’re quitting FB. Others have announced they’re thinking about it. My guess is that most Norwegian gov entities will quit within a few months. The DPA is highly respected

  5. I usually agree with you, Josh, but wonder if you are overreacting a bit. Facebook is in essence a human-emotion amplification platform, and its business model hinges upon keeping its users engaged. In other words, the very structure of FB — to make emotions stronger, and get people to share more — brings out some of the bad in people. I don’t like seeing misinformation on Facebook, or screeds and fights in the comments based on minor political differences, but I do feel users need to take accountability for the nastiness they share and the idiocy they can fall prey too.

    Instagram has a different algo, one designed to encourage sharing image idealism, and that also pulls out the worst fakery in us and makes some of us feel bad; still, that’s the core structure of IG, an accelerant of desirability.

    So I hear you, but perhaps another way to digest all this is … modern amplification platforms that bring out human nature maybe shouldn’t be blamed, because all they are doing is amplifying human nature. Peace brother. Ben

  6. Alright, I’ve made a publicly visible post, even though I usually share to friends only (I did make one other public post recently). I even quoted the human trafficking part. I don’t know if I’ll be much help, since my account only has 83 friends.

  7. Greetings . . . good morning. I see you’ve awakened.

    YOu can bet I’ll share it … we’ve had a long-established run with Facebook in the User Group Network (UGNN) and SafeNetting, the internet safety group. There’s even now an “Eye On Facebook” blog. I originated the “Facebook Funnies” series of memes, which are always blocked and taken down.

    So the next thing I’ll do is post your article to the UGNN facebook group, called the “UGN Infomanager” which first established in 1985.

    I’m glad you expressed what some of us have been saying for years.


  8. Ben, have to agree with you. Josh seems to have gone on an emotional bender.

    BTW, this is precisely the type of inflammatory content that gets attention on FB, other social media platforms, and, of course, blogs (anyone sharing this article on social media by chance? think about what it is about this article that made them want to “engage” in this way).

    FB is far from alone and not necessarily the most prominent in spreading disinformation.

    How about YouTube – the second biggest search engine – and it’s role in spreading disinformation…

    If one wants to dig into it more, I’m sure just about every platform can be found guilty of many of the same criticisms raised here.

    Should we crush them all? Including blogs that are inflammatory?

    The platforms are not without criticism, to be sure. But, it seems to me that the blame is misplaced.

    What is disturbing MOST of all, is that we are seeing what people are REALLY thinking and there is a LOT of ugly there.

    Has the internet become a window to the human soul?

    And we are struggling for an answer on how to deal with that?

      1. Depends on what that ‘somewhere’ is.

        If “Crushing” a platform would make a difference on the core problem, I’d consider it.

        If the problem really is the user base of this technology, then no matter what platform you pick, it won’t get solved.

        We cannot roll it all back to the 1990s where we had far fewer sources of information, effectively having gate keepers who moderated the news we heard.

        We had limited ability to give voice to our worst thoughts / impulses to a large community – instead we were restricted to the community physically near us, with whom we had to live and cooperate with.

        What we are experiencing is an unintended consequence of this technological evolution.

        This opens up a LOT of questions about the essential “goodness” of humanity, and following from that what freedom should we have (and who gets to decide)?

    1. I agree with Tracy, gotta start somewhere. If we wanna get bogged down in high minded debates on this blog then great, but we’re not actually doing anything or contributing in any way. Yeah there’s other problems on the internet than FB but it’s definitely one of the biggest.

  9. I can’t share this because I patently refuse to log onto Facebook. I haven’t gone there in over four years, due to the usual objections. They keep trying to draw a person back by emailing you of new notifications and postings. They all go to my Spam folder. Any attempt to completely close one’s account puts you through a convoluted process where you have to contact people you’ve selected as Friends to ask them for a code number sent to them and you need three. I’m not going through all that BS just to close my account. It’s one more reason to be infuriated with FB.

  10. You say Facebook is one of the most evil companies on the planet, but your “not quitting it”. Nice job.