October 9, 2021
Privacy, Technology and Perspective
The Real Problem isn’t Facebook – It’s you and me. This week, Facebook faced a reckoning by a whistleblower who revealed what already we should know by now – that Facebook drives revenue to its platform by promoting hateful, divisive, and polarizing content that undermines civic integrity. A transcript of Frances Haugen’s interview with 60 Minutes follows:
You know how Facebook works. Drawing on its miles-deep databases, algorithms, and psychological studies, Facebook figures out your personal hot buttons – especially what excites you, disgusts you, outrages you and terrifies you – since those are the things that keep your attention the longest – and then positions ever-increasing amounts of similar information at eye-level in your feed. The effect is that you’re hypnotized by the very things you find the most awful, the most outrageous and the most infuriating. Most people can’t take their eyes off of the screen.
Social media companies call this information-driven hypnotism “engagement” with the platform. And, of course, the more “engaged” one is with the platform, the more (and more personally-targeted) advertising one sees, and thus the more money the platform makes. What matters is users’ attention. The truth, falsity, or flat-out insanity of the information dispelled over the platform effectively is of no concern to the platforms because they claim immunity under Section 230 (“hey, we’re just a neutral platform!”).
This model has been lucrative for Facebook’s investors (stock prices have risen from a low of $17 to a high of $348 in less than ten years). But the effects of users’ interactions with the platform on the rest of us – and on the world – have been real and are no longer sustainable. Far from “connecting the world,” the process of endlessly staring wide-eyed at the things that disgust, outrage and horrify us most has disconnected us from each other and indeed from reality, which is often distorted online anyway by people posting what they want to imagine is true. Parents have long been right to worry when their children spend too much time watching TV, playing video games, or now online. Every one of us is right to worry about spending too much time online ourselves — lest a little harmless escapism come to metastasize our suspicions, harden our prejudices, inflame our fears and insecurities, and cause us to view mutual trust, cooperation, and goodwill as naïve weaknesses and honest compromise as betrayal.
Consider your own life. Perhaps you have had close friends whose judgment has been weakened over time by constant, increasing hypnotism on Facebook, staring at hysteria fueled by insanity – who now actually believe that vaccines are nefarious, that an election loss must mean treachery, or that horse de-wormers can prevent Covid. We have. And we know you’ve seen sophisticated adults tearfully confessing problems with their families, while asking themselves why their families don’t look like the picture-perfect ones they see posing on Facebook. Perhaps that thought has crossed your mind, too.
What to do? Many in this country are looking to regulators to hold Facebook accountable.
But we suggest that it’s time to look harder at ourselves and our roles in enabling this rolling disaster.
When will Facebook’s lawyers stop working for an organization which knows that its products cause harm?
When will other employees come forward?
And when will Facebook’s users decide that they – we – will no longer contribute to Facebook’s expansion?
We suggest that it’s time to permanently delete your accounts across all of Facebook’s platforms, because the truth is that Facebook has become too big to be held truly accountable by anyone except its users.
Instructions for permanently deleting your Facebook and Facebook-owned accounts follow:
– Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/help/224562897555674/
Hosch & Morris, PLLC is a boutique law firm dedicated to data privacy and protection, cybersecurity, the Internet and technology. Open the Future℠