Frustration with Facebook
Updated: Jun 26, 2020
Social media companies have been in the news lately as their responses to false statements by politicians and protests against racial injustice have been scrutinized. What I've been learning about Facebook in particular has been disturbing. In the weeks since George Floyd was murdered by police officers, numerous companies have made pledges to support racial justice in one way or another. Mark Zuckerberg recently shared a post stating Facebook's support for the Black Lives Matter and outlining some changes he was considering. Meanwhile, the company still allows targeted political advertising and continues to resist moderating politicians on the platform even when their posts are false or inflammatory. Recently, Twitter's CEO Jack Dorsey took the step of labeling several of President Trump's tweets as misleading and even changed how these posts could be retweeted. A recent story on "The Daily" podcast noted that the top ten Facebook posts that see the highest engagement on any given day tend to be mostly posts by conservatives and/or far-right media. On the day that Mark Zuckerberg made his post in support of BLM, the post generating the most engagement on his platform was an anti-BLM video.
On an episode of the "Reset" podcast, I learned about how a change to Facebook's algorithm's was considered but ultimately neutered by Zuckerberg. This adjustment could have changed how content surfaces on users' feeds and might have made progress towards reducing people's exposure to the most polarizing content on Facebook. The journalists posited that Facebook is unwilling to take steps like this because the company has been accused of censoring conservative speech in the past and is very sensitive to this charge (probably because they are wary of future regulation). The algorithm change would have had an outsize effect on conservative Facebook users because people that use the platform the most vigorously skew conservative.
Mark Zuckerberg is an intelligent person who has built a formidable company that provides great value for shareholders. But I wonder if he is being naive. Facebook's dark power lies in its ability to use the data we provide it with to target ads and content in a way that has never been possible before. For example, before Facebook, political content had to be moderate enough to not offend the wide spectrum of people that might encounter it. Now, Facebook can deliver a rage-filled, perfidious video to exactly those users who are most likely to be polarized by it (and make a profit doing it). Viral posts surface in people's feeds in the same manner and their power to polarize is similarly magnified. The more I learn, the more I believe that it's time for this company to face serious regulation before it does even more damage to our civil discourse and our republic.