Oh Mark Zuckerberg Please Don't Ruin America (Again) -- Facebook Employees
Facebook employees are pushing back at CEO Mark Zuckerberg's decision to let politicians (and probably Russia) post ads on the social media platform stating whatever they hell they want about whomever they want to smear. So far, 250 employees have signed an open letter that's visible on Facebook's internal message board. That's a small fraction of the company's more than 35,000 employees but it's a notable chip in the wall.
You can read the full text here, but this is a key passage:
Free speech and paid speech are not the same thing.
Misinformation affects us all. Our current policies on fact checking people in political office, or those running for office, are a threat to what FB stands for. We strongly object to this policy as it stands. It doesn't protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy.
The letter details the obvious flaws in Zuckerberg's position. The Facebook CEO has tried to present himself as the Frederick Douglass of co-opted Martin Luther Kings of comedy and free speech. Like Dr. Frankenstein, Zuckerberg assumes everyone will thank him later for the monster he's created. He remains oblivious to how Facebook spreads disinformation from the powerful while suppressing minor voices (hi!) with arbitrarily enforced rules.
Facebook spokeswoman Bertie Thomson released a head-patting statement yesterday:
"Facebook's culture is built on openness, so we appreciate our employees voicing their thoughts on this important topic. We remain committed to not censoring political speech, and will continue exploring additional steps we can take to bring increased transparency to political ads."
The government censors. Facebook is a corporation with no government oversight, although Elizabeth Warren might have a plan for that. Facebook is also not a public square where any old man can yell at clouds. It has a global reach and charges for advertising. Super PACs could flood Facebook users with lies about a politician or organization, who'd have to spend finite resources responding to the lies. And Facebook offers no discount codes for the truth.
Facebook was a useful idiot in Russia's (successful) efforts to meddle in the 2016 election. Zuckerberg has only responded with arrogant obstinance. He's trying to sell a repeat of 2016 as a "feature" not a bug.
Facebook seems to think fact-checking content restricts speech, as if it's unaware of libel laws or the truth-in-advertising laws that govern most reputable publications. Facebook is also absurdly biased in how it enforces its byzantine rules. As pointed out yesterday on popular.info, Ben Shapiro's right-wing hack site The Daily Wire (or Bigots on Parade) is incredibly successful on Facebook. Apparently "Gender Equality Is a Leftist Lie" is not "clickbait" but a Donald Trump joke in a Wonkette headline is.
According to NewsWhip, a social media analytics company, The Daily Wire was the #11 publisher on Facebook in September, garnering 18,125,590 engagements, which include likes, comments, and shares. The Daily Wire narrowly trailed publications like the New York Times (24.4 million engagements) and the Washington Post (22.4 million engagements).
But looking at total monthly engagements understates the scale of The Daily Wire's Facebook success. The Washington Post and the New York Times are large news organizations with hundreds of journalists. The Washington Post produced 10,591 pieces that were posted to Facebook in September, and the New York Times produced 13,442. The Daily Wire has a much smaller staff and produced just 1,181 pieces in September.
Zuckerberg recently had Shapiro over for the least sexy dinner party you could imagine. The topics were "free speech" and "possible partnerships." Now, Shapiro's convinced Zuckberg is a zealous advocate of free expression. That coffee cake must've been exceptional.
Conservatives now claim Zuckerberg is standing on "principle" against political censorship. The true villains are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren. Zuckerberg is either complicit in conservative efforts to leverage social media for their own ends or incredibly naive. It's hard to say when this is the sort of nonsense he tells people these days:
"People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world — a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society."
That's precious. Zuckerberg believes in people and our ability to filter out the truth from the raw sewage of lies. Someone should tell Zuck that they didn't build statues to the publishers who ran ads from snake oil salesmen as long as the checks cleared.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.